REWIND: Tempest in a tinhorn’s teapot (2009).


Dan Coffey has proven himself temperamentally and educationally unsuited for public office so very often that we’ve largely ceased pointing it out to readers. It simply is a given, accepted by one and all, like knowing that Dallas Cowboys fans always are obnoxious, Lite beer has no flavor, and White Castles are flatulent.

1st district voters unfortunately have acquiesced to keep Coffey in office, and by doing so, they’ve doomed themselves to persistent irrelevance. But the Wizard of Westside faces two opponents next Tuesday: Theresa Timberlake, who narrowly lost to Coffey in 2007, and Vicki Denhart, a.k.a. “Professor Eric” the masked blogger.

Reports suggest bloody, hand-to-hand, medieval warfare in the 1st district, and not unlike civil wars in isolated Asian jungles, outsiders can hear the noise and feel the earth shake when the bombs explode, but they have little clear notion of the situation within.

The following column, which was first printed in the News and Tribune on September 10, 2009, reprises the famous council meeting when Coffey, Denhart and the Publican (that’s me) collided. A year and a half ago, the copperhead defended the troglodyte’s virtue. Now, she’s gouging out his eyes.

Who will win? All I can say is, “Go Theresa.”

BEER MONEY: Tempest in a tinhorn’s teapot.

By ROGER BAYLOR, Local Columnist

At the September 3 city council meeting, its president remarked that he could not “in good conscious” vote for a particular ordinance.

However, Dan Coffey mustered sufficient consciousness to vote in favor of an amendment to precisely the same ordinance, but only after publicly inquiring of the city’s long-suffering clerk as to how the tally stood prior to his own decision finally being registered.

Malaprop theatrics like these matter because they violate the council’s own rules of order, which prohibit the president from joining in a discussion before first passing the gavel to a colleague, but because reticence would not suit Coffey’s view of the council president as ringmaster of a flea circus, he seldom observes protocol and frequently flaunts it. Apart from a solitary recent instance, his fellow councilpersons seem content to acquiesce in their workplace being governed by the ward heeler’s whim.

Meanwhile, members of the public – known as “taxpayers” if favored by Coffey and “them people” if not – are periodically compelled to abide by randomly applied rules, and so it was that at the meeting of August 20, during the course of departing the council chamber for more stylish digs down the street, I famously uttered a few cross words.

Last weekend, Coffey deigned to put his name on a letter to the editor of this very newspaper, attesting to his somewhat inaccurate recollections of my transgression. Ever since then, sometimes when sleeping and other times while conscious, my conscience has bothered me, though not for the reasons you might expect.

Surely no one, least of all me, likes to lose his temper, and yet it happens to all of us from time to time. There are occasions when it is inordinately difficult to maintain one’s composure, as when baseless innuendo is being peddled to a council evidently too bored or self-serving to respect the sanctity of genuine truth, primarily because baseless fabrications better fit the pre-determined prejudice of the body’s vitriolic president.

Yes, I lost my temper. Just the same, much of the remainder of Coffey’s depiction of the scene belongs on the shelf alongside “Alice in Wonderland,” or even more appropriately, “Pinocchio.”

Forever exaggerating, Dan Coffey would have you believe that a harmless little old lady was steamrollered by a truncheon-wielding Communist, but the woman in question is an outspoken citizen activist who, to put it mildly, is quite fluent with name-calling, mud-slinging, publishing a trash-talking blog under the pseudonym of a non-existent male college professor, and other characteristic acts of local political foreplay.

Of course, the limited pleasures of foreplay are as good as it can get with the current sitting council, because in order to reach a climax, something actually has to be finished.

In his letter, Coffey suggests that those whom he has arbitrarily judged guilty of rambunctious behavior should be held to a higher standard of accountability, seeing that among them are Tribune columnists and members of local appointed non-profit boards.

Funny, but I don’t recall the saintly Coffey deploying the same logic back in January. Here are excerpts from what I wrote at the time:

“(Mark) Cassidy came before the council and waited patiently for the opportunity to read a prepared statement and to ask a simple question: Does the current legislative aggregation have any intention of doing its Constitutional duty to draw fair electoral districts by lawfully redistricting for the first time since 1992?

“Cassidy … politely endeavored to ask this question, but Coffey … argued with Cassidy and gaveled him down.

“The story resumed … with Coffey’s verbal and physical harassment of another, entirely different citizen in Studio’s. There, surrounded by witnesses … Coffey initiated a heated discussion with (Jeff) Gillenwater that ended with Coffey aggressively grabbing Gillenwater by the shoulders and vowing to be ‘like a copperhead’ and to ‘strike when you least expect it.’”

So much for civility. How does Coffey reconcile hypocrisy of this magnitude?

More significantly, why do his somnolent council seatmates tolerate it?

Only one of them, John Gonder, possessed the intestinal fortitude in January to suggest that Coffey deserved some form of censure. The others sat and stared at the floor, and now, bizarrely – pathetically – they just can’t understand why they’re regarded as political laughingstocks by anyone who takes the time to observe them in non-action.

Me? I take my deserved lumps when erring, which is why I’ve always signed my name to everything I write — always have, always will. Passion for the cause of civic progress and a profound inability to suffer fools at times may lead to unfortunate outbursts, which I regret. Know that if given the chance to do it over, I’d have used a different noun, though not a different modifier. Color me defiant, and unrepentant, and let the chips fall where they may.

But here’s the rub: Coffey’s breezy fiction to the contrary, this entire story isn’t at all about me, my friends or our values. It’s about the desperate concoction of a smokescreen for the ongoing failure of the Coffey Council to offer any semblance of leadership in the form of a pro-active future vision for the city of New Albany.

Coffey’s cavalier disregard for the rules of engagement is a nasty symptom of the rot within, one that is being left to fester by council persons who quite simply know better and yet do nothing. In terms of legislative achievement, Dan Coffey’s council is barely conscious.

Do any of its members still have a conscience?