Judy McGovern

Column archive

5/11/2003 

Two cents' worth about 25-cent flap

I met Brian Mackie half a dozen years ago. And I'd be lying if I said it wasn't strange to walk down the street with someone whose eyes are glued to the curb.

But you get used to all kinds of things; and a tall, white-haired, gray-suited county prosecutor scouring the ground for the coins that land at the base of parking meters isn't the worst – or the most eccentric – thing in the world.

Neither is "quartergate" the worst or the weirdest thing to hit Washtenaw County.

It is, however, dumb.

Mackie, whose coin salvaging extends to pay phones, smacked a public phone to dislodge a quarter. That was dumb.

The Ann Arbor PD got worked into a tizzy and decided the only way to avoid such a presumably hot potato was to ask the State Police to investigate. That was dumb.

The stateys dutifully conducted interviews and sent a report to the Michigan Attorney General's office where – you can only assume – they all had a good laugh at Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County before officially concluding the matter was too ridiculous to merit consideration.

Dumbness, like the buck, has to stop somewhere.

Now, I have no reason to think the local cops were really trying to make Mackie's life miserable.

Although the three-term prosecutor sees the police inquiry as payback for his criticism of a city detective, the episode was as embarrassing to Ann Arbor Chief Dan Oates and company as to the prosecutor. If it really was supposed to be retribution, it was a botched job.

As taxpayers, we should all be concerned about the sorry state of relations between city police and the prosecutor on one hand, and the apparent cover-your-butt mentality at the police department on the other.

Sure, we've all heard of places where authorities looked the other way when a politician or some high-roller – or a family member of a politician or high-roller – got tangled up in shoplifting or drunken driving or even family violence.

We're all rightfully outraged at the thought of it, and the police should be sensitive to the appearance of special treatment. But this was special treatment.

And, though Oates may still be adjusting to small-town crime after a career in New York (yes, we fuss about traffic calming, rather than the homicide rate), this wasn't anywhere close to a close call.

Anyone else spotted roughing up a pay phone might have been told "hey, take it easy on the phone."

Instead, law enforcement resources were wasted.

Brian Mackie is a lot of things.

He's given to hyperbole. And when it involves the newspaper, it aggravates me no end. He is literally, if not clinically, compulsive about scooping up all the lost change in his path.

He's also driven when it comes to prosecuting people who hurt women and kids, and about securing grants to support programs that address those situations.

He's a Democrat who got on famously with a Republican sheriff because they both worried about criminal justice instead of politics.

He's almost certainly going to be part of local political lore.

Until cell phones and debit and swipe cards, or inflation, make coins obsolete, Mackie's going to hunt for the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters the rest of us leave behind.

And you'd think that Ann Arbor, of all places, could deal with a bit of eccentricity.

Just take it easy on the phone.

Judy McGovern is managing editor, features, at The News.

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