Forgiveness was ordered out of town on November 8, 2011 when virtue lost and ignorance prevailed at the ballot box and the City of Kentwood officially became No Mercy, Michigan. Prodigal sons might be welcome if they know their place and never try to hold elective office but they’re banned from taking any position with government as the Chief Executive officer has bragged many times about denying jobs to felons.
Stunned by the lack of compassion and common sense displayed by the majority of voters falling for this vengeful and distorted campaign to rid the City Commission of one duly elected member, it has taken me over two weeks to absorb and analyze this political farce. Yet perhaps the day after Thanksgiving is the perfect time to dissect this turkey of a law.
True the ballot measure had a lot of political appeal because it allowed people to vent anger against two unpopular groups, ex-felons and elected officials. Combine the two and you have the perfect scapegoat for electoral slaughter.
According to the Grand Rapids Press article (KENTWOOD VOTES OUT FELONS, November 9, 2011) the gloating Mayor of No Mercy Richard Root Out My Non-Rubber Stamp Commissioner declared “…citizens have spoken and are upholding community values…” Really Mayor McFaultless?
Like the values you and the other Commissioners displayed when you did nothing but huff, puff, and bloviate but failed to act in any substantial way to remove a sitting Commissioner convicted of soliciting prostitution while in office. You could have moved for a re-call or asked the Governor to remove your colleague but you and the other Commissioners did nothing of consequence but blather in self-righteous pontifications. Apparently the degrading and disgusting treatment of women is not an evil worth amending the charter or asking the Governor to expel a sitting newly convicted criminal to uphold community values. Seems hypocritical at the very least to not act then, yet this year seemingly mount a crusade against a Commissioner you cannot control in what looks like a selfish act of political vengeance.
I must admit my shock at the voters aiding and abetting your apparent personal vendetta. It seems like the majority asked, “how many times must we refuse to forgive Lord Mayor?” and you I guess commanded them “I say to you not seven votes, but at least seven times two hundred and forty nine votes must be cast to exorcise this sinner from our midst!” Sadly 68% of the less than 13% of the city’s registered voters responded out of fear, ignorance, confusion or misguided trust while 31% of the citizens showing up at the polls backed forgiveness and redemption. Which group truly spoke for community values and virtue?
In the aforementioned GR press article His Honor Cotton Mather, I mean Richard Root (easy mistake to make), according to Press Reporter Julie Makarewicz “…expects commissioners will have a hearing Dec. 6 to determine whether VerWys should serve out the remaining two years of his term of office or face immediate removal from the board.”
Kentwood Second Ward City Commissioner Ray VerWys is the “felon” all of this expense and fuss is about. VerWys was guilty of two felony convictions for embezzlement at a young age, did his time and was elected by his constituents in 2009 even after they were made aware of his record. He committed a stupid crime and there is no excuse for it, but I believe it’s not as bad as exploiting a prostitute and degrading your elective office. Obviously Mayor Root views community standards and values differently. Perhaps Commissioner VerWys’ greatest sin was defeating an incumbent political favorite and daring to challenge the Mayor on some policies.
Yes I know Ray, and he has co-hosted on my show in the past, but I have never been involved with his campaigns and we disagree on a number of issues. Clearly I am not defending his actions in the past, rather what I’m speaking out for is his right to be given a second chance and have the opportunity to serve in government if his constituents want to elect him. It also disturbs me to see such rank hypocrisy and political vengeance being disguised as concern for the common good. Finally I firmly believe in the virtue of mercy and the message of redemption putting me at odds with Mayor Root and his band of punishers passing as community guardians.
I agree with President Lincoln who wisely said, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” Too bad Honest Abe with his “Malice toward none and charity for all” would not meet the community values of Richard Root.
Not to exempt the Yes voters from blame, their ballot -their responsibility, but when the majority of elected leaders are telling them it’s needed and their Mayor is proud the city doesn’t give felons a second chance and operating under the misguided belief Commissioner VerWys tried everything to conceal his record when he ran for office there was some room for confusion.
In fact Ray publicly told his story on radio before even the primary. If his opponent didn’t have the unbridled arrogance of many incumbents he could have easily done a Lexus Nexus or other search of public records and then he and Mayor Root could have released it or planted the info with the media. Maybe it would have made a difference and maybe it would not have? To blame Ray VerWys for their lack of opposition research and lazy campaigning is ridiculous.
Ray was not required to show up at the doors of voters and say, “ Hi my name is Ray and I’m a felon but vote for me”, anymore than Richard Root, Commissioner Cummings or any of the other Unforgiving Five authors of this vindictive amendment are required to say when campaigning, “ Hi I’m Richard or (fill-in your favorite ex-con tormentor)and I didn’t use the charter to remove a sitting Commissioner convicted of soliciting for prostitution or speak out when a County Commissioner played with dangerous weapons almost injuring a person and another one cowardly beat up a woman but hey those were only misdemeanors and they aren’t a thorn in my side like Ray VerWys. Why the voters had the gall to elect him to office with us, the moral judges of this city!”
Where were the faith leaders or the voices of restorative justice and the advocates for ex-felons? If they spoke out I never heard them. This was a teachable moment yet only silence. Love should have won, but the lost sheep were not deemed worthy of help.
St. Thomas Aquinas defined the virtue of "mercy" as "the compassion in our hearts for another person's misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him." Most religions hold that mercy must temper justice. Sin has you miss the mark and mercy restores you. It is Divine grace healing and making people whole.
Clarence Darrow the great lawyer and agnostic called mercy, “the highest attribute of man.”
Secular or sacred mercy defines and impacts a society. What is a town without Mercy? (Sorry Gene Pitney)
Travel with me for few moments into a world of fantasy that as Chesterton might say is more real than our own.
We can just imagine when December 6th arrives. Mayor Root will be cranky after St. Nickolas leaves a note in one shoe simply saying, “Luke 11:14” and in his other one just, “Matthew 5:7”. He will spend the day with the truth gnawing at him as he tries to prepare himself to execute the political career of his enemy.
Preparing his statement is difficult as the verses of scripture torture his conscience and the words of Shakespeare’s Portia haunt him echoing maddeningly through his mind.
“The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown. His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this scept'red sway; It is enthroned in the hearts of kings; It is an attribute to God himself, And earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice.”
A legal fight is also looming born out of legitimate Constitutional and Michigan Home Rule Act questions. Scarce tax dollars squandered to rid him of this miserable felon. Expulsion may not be possible under the law. What if he has to testify with other Commissioners in open court on their legislative intent for the amendment? How will he and others answer under oath and pain of perjury why no action was taken against a previous sitting City Commissioner who committed and was convicted of a vile crime while holding office? Was this amendment personally directed at Commissioner VerWys? Is it right to use the powers of your office and amend the charter to eliminate a particular Commissioner? Is that not an abuse of power?
Root is sweating like Nixon in the first 1960 Presidential TV Debate. Fortunately Screwtape dispatches one of his most skilled tempters to aid the confused Mayor. Eschewing the ones adept at corrupting great leaders, instead choosing Magnanimofarinata a specialist in seducing minor officeholders by convincing them instead of being bound by a public trust to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States they have a personal obligation to rise above politics and determine the values of their less qualified and confused constituents, for their own good of course .
With Hell’s finest assuring him nothing is more important than his duty to purify his city from ex-felons Richard Root once again feels the passion needed to expel his adversary.
Screwtape himself trained the demon using that damnable but useful play by T.S. Eliot MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL. Magnanimofarinata subtlety twisted the temptations to fit the need:
“Mr. Mayor you hold the keys to purify politics in this city.
Power to improve the quality of office holders.
Improve, Richard improve and bind good representation into law.
Bind all future Commissioners, Mayors and especially the poor voters to high standards
Good honest government ensured by your actions despite those meddlesome critics!”
The thoughts take root in the Mayor’s mind and he is prepared to clean every taint of criminal pasts and questionable judgment from his beloved city.
Sadly Richard Root was not like the real or even TS Elliot’s literary Thomas Beckett who replied to his tempters in that great play:
“Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
With the deed yet not done, Screwtape and Magnanimofarinata will fret until the action is finally carried out. The Enemy’s love for these miserable creatures is as infinite as His patience even with those denying his greatest gift-- Mercy.
Using Elliot was a risk. Real Truth is far too easily untwisted and many times Screwtape and his minions themselves bungle into aiding the Enemy with His Mysterious ways to the anger, but not the surprise, of their father below. Hope was a curse they could not destroy.
Pardon me for my humble and poor imitation of literary greats. I presumptuously created a fantasy imagining the internal struggle of one I am barely acquainted with, but it was to make a point regarding human nature and particularly the temptations facing well meaning and sincere politicians that I know personally far too well. Screwtape, if he exists, may be waiting to toast with a draught of Rick Tormala even more than a sip of Richard Root.
Returning to the tragic vote of November 8th, I urge Mayor Root and his colleagues to abandon any efforts to expel Commissioner VerWys. It is wrong will cost your city legally and embarrass it even more publicly. Besides: Pulchrum est vitam donare minori; It is noble to grant life to the vanquished, and Lord knows a little act of nobleness couldn’t hurt right now.
I still hope you and your colleagues will gathered the moral courage needed to admit this all was a misguided, cruel and unnecessary measure, apologize to the voters for confusing them and move to repeal this nonsense at the next election. People will forgive you and it would be a good step towards showing your city understands and believes in Redemption. The City of Kentwood would be rid of the title No Mercy, Michigan!
Yet if you continue with your vendetta than please strip “ by the Grace of God” from the Preamble of your City’s charter. You rejected governing by His Grace when you decided to become No Mercy, Michigan though I am certain it is still available. He forgives, so should you. So should we all!