Wait a minute, we thought in the Missourinet, newsroom when we heard Governor Nixon was going to appoint a new Director of the Department of Public Safety. When did Jerry Lee leave? Had we missed something? We checked the Governor’s website for any announcement that Lee had announced he was leaving state government. Nothing there. Then suddenly, the new DPS chief was announced. What’s going on? we asked. We clearly needed someone to clarify the situation.
Anybody who has been watching the 24-hour news channels during the Ferguson troubles has probably had more than their fill of analysts and speculators guessing about what is happening that they don’t know about. Why should those people on the cable channels have all the fun?
So we have called in two experts. Professor Anna Lize from the political science department at Inscrutable U, and pollster Speckard “Spec” U. Layt from Obfuscations, Incorporated. How do you two read these events?
PROF. LIZE: Well, Governor Nixon is in hot water with a number of African-American leaders who think he dithered while Ferguson burned (a figure of speech because there was some but not much burning in Ferguson, but you get the idea). He’s never been all that politically chummy with a number of black political figures and there have been verbal eruptions from some of them from time to time, particularly some vomitus tweets from a state senator during the Ferguson riots.
Now the Governor, who has had an all-white cabinet since Kelvin Simmons left as Director of the Office of Administration in 2012, suddenly has an African-American as the head of the Department of Public Safety. And the man who has headed that department for the last three years is suddenly gone.
MR. LAYT: It was certainly convenient that former St. Louis County Police Chief Jerry Lee resigned as department director with a one-sentence letter of resignation on Tuesday and Governor Nixon had former St. Louis City Police Chief Dan Isom so immediately available to fill that sudden hole in his cabinet.
PROF LIZE: Peculiarly, Nixon made no statement announcing Lee’s resignation until his Communications Ministry, as you folks at the Missourinet like to call his press people, put out a news release announcing the appointment of Isom. In the last paragraph of the Isom appointment news release, Nixon is quoted as saying some nice things about Lee.
MR. LAYT: But the news release says Lee, who used only one line in his resignation letter, was actually relatively loquacious about his departure. According to the news release he told somebody (he must have done it verbally because it wasn’t in his letter), “Serving the State of Missouri in this role has been a true honor and a privilege. I thank Governor Nixon for this opportunity, and especially the fine men and women of the department who carry out their responsibility to keep Missouri communities safe with exceptional dedication and professionalism. They have made me and their state very proud.”
PROF LIZE: Spec, we should note that all of these observations aside, Dan Isom has solid credentials for the job as he replaces a man who came into the position also with extensive credentials. The Department of Public Safety oversees agencies that are critical to maintaining public order and caring for those who have served our country in the military. The department oversees the Highway Patrol and its water patrol division, the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, the state Fire Marshall’s office, the National Guard, the Emergency Management Agency, the Gaming Commission that keeps an eye on Missouri’s thirteen casinos, and various veterans programs. It’s a department whose divisions are more often in the public eye than the department itself.
MR. LAYT: Right. This isn’t about the qualifications of the director. It’s about the circumstances of the change. Is Jerry Lee getting the close-up view of the underside of a bus or did he just suddenly decide on Tuesday that he should “retire,” as the Communications Ministry puts it, and Dan Isom just as suddenly decided he could take the position?
PROF. LIZE: Well, don’t forget that when Nixon went to Lee’s Summit, he denied there’s any link between the racial issues in Ferguson and the change in leadership of the Public Safety department. He says he’ll continue to–as he put it–“make sure that the people who serve the state of Missouri reflect the great, rich diversity of our state.”
MR LAYT: But don’t you think it’s interesting that Senator McCaskill suggested that there’s more to all of this. She thought it was interesting that last Friday somebody asked Nixon if he had any African-Americans in his cabinet and, bingo, five days later there is one. She didn’t really say “bingo.” I just did that for emphasis.
PROF. LIZE: And wouldn’t one think that the Governor would have wanted to do more to recognize a man who, as the Governor himself is quoted as saying, “dedicated his career to serving the public” for more than four decades than to give him an attaboy in the last paragraph of the two-page news release announcing the appointment of his successor?
MR. LAYT: I agree, Anna. Jerry Lee was a cop in St. Louis County for thirty-eight years, five of those years was the Chief of the department. He was the Director of the Department of Public Safety for almost three years. But in the end he didn’t even deserve his own press release, and the surely heartfelt thanks of a grateful Governor became little more than a footnote in the announcement of a new department director.
Professor Lize and Mr. Layt, thank you for your insights. We’re sure they have helped our readers get a clearer understanding of the situation.