Jan 23 2006
12:28 pm

Some people see Knoxville City Councilman Bob Becker as one of the most “progressive” members of City Council. Yet he does things that don’t seem to be very progressive. While many are puzzled on his position to sell the Candy Factory and Victorian houses he now advocates that the oath taken by City Council is too long and he wishes to “trim some of the fat”.

I am so confused about what “progressive” means.

From the Knoxville News Sentinel

January 23, 2006

Even the president of the United States swears to less on Inauguration Day, according to Knoxville City Councilman Bob Becker.

Now Becker would like to trim a little fat from the mayor’s and other city officers’ oaths of office.

In fact, he wants to strike nearly the entire second half of the swearing-in script, just short of the “So help me God” ending.

In the section, elected officials, police officers, firefighters and others make a very detailed promise not to have any sort of financial conflict of interest with the city.

“It’s long and I don’t think it’s very helpful,” said Becker, who took the oath himself about two years ago. “There’s a value in brevity.”


JustJohnny's picture

Yeah, it is difficult to tag

Yeah, it is difficult to tag people as a progressive or a conservative anymore. Look at all the spending the 'conservative' republican party has done in Washington; too bad none of it was on social programs, otherwise it would have been called a mass defection to liberalism. Likewise, many of the 'progressive' politicians are holding back on major criticism of the Bush administration. So, the terms are pretty much useless. A politician is a politican. Americans are more and more 'in the middle', which is good. The question is (today anyway) this: is he or she an honest and open politician? Does an oath do that? No. Good legislation on corruption along with strong and swift prosecution of the guilty might be a start.

Bbeanster's picture

Wouldn't want to overload

Wouldn't want to overload any circuits by forcing our politicos to say a few extra words once every four years. God knows, they hate the sound of their own voices...

Number9's picture

I don't know what is worse,

I don't know what is worse, the original idea or the fact on first reading it was approved unanimously. Once every four years. Is that too much to ask?

Also, Becker sounds like his feelings are hurt that the oath exists in the first place. Kind of like saying, "Don't you trust us"?

R. Neal's picture

That's pretty funny. I sort

That's pretty funny. I sort of agree with the idea, though, that instead of reciting a litany of things they will or won't do and just say "I promise work for the people and not to be a butthead or break any laws."

But I think the real story is that by giving this so much publicity, the KNS has fulfilled their weekly quota of "progressive" local news.

Number9's picture

The KNS is working overtime

The KNS is working overtime on appearing to be progressive.

Have you seen Jack McElroy's new blog?

Catchy name, The Sentinel's Sentinel. Am I the only person that finds some humor in this?


Number9's picture

Scratch that. McElroy's new

Scratch that.

McElroy's new blog is now called the "Upfront Page".

Insert pun here___________________.

Damn, I really like the "Sentinel's Sentinel".

Two disastrous but humorous names. Will there be a third?

michael kaplan's picture

number9 writes: I am so

number9 writes: I am so confused about what “progressive” means.


so are many of bob becker's constituents. having led the charge to privatize the candy factory (did you all catch the boo's at the end of his performance?), dropping the city living wage as an issue, voting for redflex, and sponsoring a meaningless LGBT amendment, many are wondering where this guy is coming from.

Bev's picture

I don't live in his district

I don't live in his district but I am curious, how accessable and responsive is Mr. Becker with these constituents you mention?

veery's picture

Mr. Becker consults with the

Mr. Becker consults with the people who helped elect him before and after every council meeting, and since he treats his council seat as his primary job, I'm sure he is quite responsive to those who contact him.

old leg's picture

There seem to be several

There seem to be several issues on this thread related to Bob Becker beyond this oath thing. Maybe the oath is anachronistically bloated. Where's the text?

I am not up on all these other issues, but don't know if the "constituent" reference fits. Special interests would be a subset of these constituents, right? Sounds like he is taking positions and has reasoning behind his decisions by other posts here.

rikki's picture

Where's the text? Funny you

Where's the text?

Funny you should ask. Number9 didn't bother to look up the text before forming his opinion, though it's easily available through the city law department's page on the city website. I'm sure once he finds it he will post the text of the oath here and everywhere else he cross-posted.

Number9's picture

Perhaps easily found by you.

Perhaps easily found by you. I did look for it but could not find it. I looked again after you said you found it and still could not find it. None the less, I do appreciate your finding the oath and posting it.

rikki's picture

And I appreciate you

And I appreciate you questioning the integrity of Bob Becker and the entire city council without even doing the basic legwork to understand what they voted on. It's not just brevity, by the way. The oath was redundant. Council members pledge not to engage in business with the city when they swear to uphold the City Charter and State Constitution. That's the opinion of the City Law Director, at least.

So where does that leave you?

Number9's picture

Thank you for asking. Hayes

Thank you for asking.

Hayes Hickman does a good job as a reporter. The key quotes from Bob Becker are:

"It's long and I don't think it's very helpful," said Becker, who took the oath himself about two years ago. "There's a value in brevity."

While it may reassure city residents to hear their elected leaders swear against having any financial interest in any business or public service corporation or other entity that has contracts with the city - hand on the Bible and all - it's not really necessary, he said.

It is necessary. And if Mr. Becker cannot be bothered to take the oath as it stands I suggest the people find someone that can.

I do not see that Mr. Becker is a progressive as he alleges to be. He seems to be anything but progressive.

Rachel's picture

I know because I've heard

I know because I've heard him talk about it, and I watched the Council meeting, that Bob doesn't mean it's not "necessary" to promise these things.

He means it's not necessary to enumerate all of them because they are all covered in the general portion of the oath.

However, I shouldn't speak for Bob. I suggest you email him - - and ask him for elaboration. Nothing like going right to the source. And it might be nice to give him that courtesy before you condemn him.

rikki's picture

Fascinating that you chose

Fascinating that you chose to argue with selected quotes from the article rather than argue with me. You didn't address my point at all. Is that because you can't?

Number9's picture

How did I not address your

How did I not address your point? Becker provided no reason other than "length" and that it is “not necessary”. That doesn't cut it.

People want to hear an oath where Council members pledge not to make money off their position. Becker objects to the words. The objection to the "length" is a smoke screen. Neither the Mayor nor any other City official has a problem with this oath. But the “progressive” Council member Becker does.

There is actually one phrase in the oath that may need to be revised. It is "that I do not have a financial interest in any public service corporation engaged in business in the City". Steve Hall said on the radio this morning that phrase could mean that a Council member would be in conflict if they owned stock in the phone company. I don't know if that is accurate but it needs to be examined. If that one phrase presents a legal issue then strike it but don’t gut the entire oath.

Hall defended Becker and the rest of Council. I think they have lost touch with the people. This is the disconnect of City Council. They are so programmed to have 9-0 votes I wonder if they think about the things they do.

Becker on the other hand has offered no real reason for the oath to be changed. I see much symbolism from Becker but little substance.

Number9's picture

(did you all catch the boo's

(did you all catch the boo's at the end of his performance?)

I think it is safe to say that Bob Becker will never pull a two dollar bill out of his pocket again.

Rachel's picture

Really, Bob Becker "led the

Really, Bob Becker "led the charge" to privatize the CF? All my discussions on this subject with Bob - and there were more than a few - gave me the impression that this was an issue he had put a lot of thought into and somewhat agonized over. Please cite an example of "charge leading."

Has Bob dropped the living wage as an issue? Hadn't heard that.

And the LGBT resolution Bob & Chris Woodhull sponsored was just fine. It was Joe Hultquist who offered the meaningless amendment, which some of the rest of Council jumped on as a chance to have their cake and eat it do. Bob voted against the amendment, along with Rob Frost, Mark Brown, and Chris.

And might I add that booing a Council member you disagree with just might not be the most effective way to get him or her to listen to you on the next issue?

Bbeanster's picture

As a Becker constituent, I'd

As a Becker constituent, I'd say opinions of his responsiveness are very mixed. Lots of them seem to be calling Rob Frost first.

michael kaplan's picture

Although I don't live in Bob

Although I don't live in Bob Becker's district, I displayed a Becker yard sign, a bumper sticker, endorsed him online and by word of mouth, and *voted* for Mr. Becker. At the December 10 rally in front of the Candy Factory, I'd say that most participants supported Mr. Becker for election, whether or not they lived in his district. At that rally Mr. Becker, in front of some very loyal constituents, could have either opposed the privatization scheme or shut up and listened politely; he did neither. Rather, he made himself available to the TV news cameras and argued for sale of the building in the strongest terms. Several days before, he was the 'go-between' in discussions between the campaign and Bill Lyons. We didn't ask for his participation. Just after the August 16 vote, I had a private conversation with Mr. Becker and asked him why the city Living Wage campaign was dropped. He said there was no 'public support' for the campaign. On April 28, before there was a single council vote on the Candy Factory issue, Becker attended a public meeting in the Candy Factory when Bill Lyons announced that "it's a done deal." (We have about 80 witnesses to that statement.) Mr. Becker knew precisely what was going down and he chose not to speak at the meeting.

I erred in stating that Mr. Becker proposed the amendment. What I meant to say was that IMO Mr. Becker and Mr. Woodhull should have withdrawn their resolution after hearing the amendment.

rikki's picture

The living wage movement was

The living wage movement was spearheaded by the organization Bob Becker headed before running for city council. That organization has crumbled without his leadership. There are certainly still people around who favor of a living wage, but are they organized and working for it? I'm sure Mr. Becker would welcome and support an organized push for a living wage.

knoxnoser's picture

Mr. Becker told me recently

Mr. Becker told me recently that he would really like for someone to get the living wage issue back on the table. I am in his district and I can report first hand that he works hard and studies each issue very carefully.

Rachel's picture

Uh, the resolution had been

Uh, the resolution had been moved and seconded, as had the amendment to it - I'm not sure under Robert's Rules Chris & Bob could have withdrawn the resolution at that point.

IMO, a vote was useful anyway. It did show who had the courage of their convictions on endorsing human rights and dignity for all Knoxvillians, and who was happy to accept the weasely amendment.

Rachel's picture

Here's my deal on Becker and

Here's my deal on Becker and the folks who are ready to ride him out of town on a rail because they disagreed with his vote on the CF:

I supported quite a few of the current Council members when they ran for office. But sometimes they vote in a way I don't like. I know it's shocking, but it's true. Every single person I supported with $$$, time, and effort, has, at least once, voted for something I opposed, or against something I supported.

That may disappoint me, but it doesn't surprise me. Nobody I know agrees with me all the time (hell, sometimes I don't agree with myself as time moves on).

If you want a Council candidate who will vote the way you would vote every single time, run for office yourself.

Otherwise, if someone you supported occasionally votes in a way you don't like, let them know you don't like it and why. Then go back to working with them on the issues you agree on (and I'm assuming there are many, or you wouldn't have voted for the person in the first place).

Number9's picture

Decide for your self. Below

Decide for your self. Below is the oath in question. Less than 200 words. Is it the length of the oath? Or is it the words in the oath?


I, ________________, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, and the Charter and Ordinances of the City of Knoxville; that I possess all of the qualifications required by the Charter and Ordinances of the City or by general law for the office or position that I am about to assume; that I will discharge my duties as ________________ faithfully, honestly and impartially. I further swear that I do not have any contracts with the City; that I do not have any financial interest in any business or entity having contracts with the City; that I do not have a financial interest in any public service corporation engaged in business in the City; and that I will not enter into such contracts or obtain such an interest while I serve in this office or position, so help me God.
Subscribed and affirmed or sworn to before me this ________ day of _________, 20________.

michael kaplan's picture

does anyone know the history

does anyone know the history of the oath, who wrote it, and why those objectionable phrases were added in the first place?

Andy Axel's picture

You think an oath is really

You think an oath is really a deterrent?

Or should we ask some of the cast of characters in all of the affair-challenged marriages; you know, those ceremonies which included oaths not to fuck any other partner so long as ye both shall live?


rikki's picture

The replies are starting to

The replies are starting to slip off the right edge, so I'm jumping back to the original post.

The point you did not address is that this change in no way affects the legal limitations on a council member. When they pledge to uphold the city charter, state constitution, and federal constitution, they acknowledge every limitation placed on them as a public office holder. Specifically mentioning the limitations on doing business with the city is just a redundancy. Becker makes this point in the Sentinel article in quotes you have ignored, and he made it more explicitly at the council meeting and in private conversations. Brevity is a consequence of cutting redundancy. Cutting redundancy is the goal.

According to the city law director, the change has no legal consequence. This is yet another baseless, opportunistic allegation from you.

Number9's picture

I want them to take the

I want them to take the oath. I want them to promise they will not have side deals. I want them to give their word.

I understand it is redundant. It is 197 words. The brevity argument doesn't hold water.

Rachel's picture

I want them to take the

I want them to take the oath. I want them to promise they will not have side deals. I want them to give their word.

They do that already, as Rikki has pointed out.

And for someone who won't give his name, either here or at a Council meeting, you sure don't mind making a bunch of demands.

Number9's picture

They either say the words in

They either say the words in the oath or they don't. That is not what rikki wrote. He is alluding that other laws prevent them from making side deals. The tradition is that they take an oath that spells out their commitment. They should not be allowed to define the oath they take. If anything the voters should define that oath.

Voters in the voting booth do not give out their name but their vote is still recorded. It is fine to be curious as to who I am but to frame every argument around that is redundant.

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