Justice for All

Justice for All

I will miss Corrine Whitehead and the spirit she brought to the debate of issues of importance to our region.


Memorialized in May this year at the Ramey Cemetery in Lyon County, the service was fitting for a woman who was a legend in her fight for issues related to social and environmental justice. Described as a fierce but gracious activist for western Kentucky, she was a regional heroine to many and her influence reached across our nation.

I first encountered her in the 1970s when Harl Barnett, the publisher of the Tribune-Courier asked me to do a feature profile on her. At that time, she was the impetus behind securing Hollywood actor Tom Ewell to assist in directing the production of “Babes in Toyland” at Ken Lake amphitheater.

I would encounter her over the next two decades – sometimes as an antagonist when I worked for the federal government, and later as a protagonist when I started my public engagement firm in the 1990s.

Antagonist or protagonist, Whitehead taught me much about the importance of getting people to the table and keeping them there to talk. It was said, from age 19 until she passed at age 94, that she was a stalwart and consistent force against injustices, be it in the arts, human rights, the environment, or the intrusiveness of government in a person’s rights granted under our Constitution.

I know this to be true because I had seen her hold her own with arrogant and recalcitrant government managers and corporate executives. However, for some reason, she never intimidated me, rather she caused me to reflect on the importance of keeping everyone at the table to talk through the problem and find a solution that was mutually acceptable. That principle would later be the basis for our public engagement practice.

Having been displaced from her childhood home by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), she became a fighting voice for families who had been there for generations.

During the ’70s, I helped her and the federal managers engage in dialogue on the matters of clear-cutting timber and maintaining access roads into cemeteries within Land Between the Lakes. In the ’80s, I assisted her in establishing a dialogue about the threat of invasive species and water, and air quality issues on Kentucky Lake and the Tennessee River. Moreover, in the mid-’80s, she outlined the dangers to the region’s infrastructure that could be wrought by an earthquake along the New Madrid fault.

Here is what you and I, as small business owners, and what government managers could learn from such an activist:

1. Listen to understand. I witnessed people who did not bother to listen carefully to the viewpoints, and at times, the demands, of Whitehead and her constituency. When someone brings us a problem, an issue or concern, even a question, it is incumbent on us to understand first what is being said or asked before we engage in the collaborative process of seeking a solution.

2. Passion will always trump bureaucracy. Few people, especially at the federal government level, believed Whitehead would change the process of eminent domain; however, representing approximately 5,000 families from Between the Rivers, she and her constituency argued for the right to a trial by jury regarding compensation for properties seized under the federal provision of eminent domain. The case stemmed from the seizure of land in Between the Rivers to create a national demonstration area in the 1960s. The Supreme Court sided with her argument for such a trial; unfortunately for the former residents, the ruling was not retroactive to the Between the Rivers’ complainants. Her passion for justice, combined with her research and analytical reasoning, demonstrated that the government’s project utilization and actual use (how many people would benefit vs. those displaced) were grossly overestimated. The project never achieved the 10 million visitors it projected for the first decade of operation nor has it ever. Passion for a cause and knowledge can overcome most any objection.

3. Know your opposition and their weaknesses. When it came to people’s health and the environment, she was at the tip of the spear. In the 1980s, Whitehead founded the Coalition for Health Concerns, a nonprofit group that advocated for environmental justice. She and her constituency fought to have LWD, a hazardous waste incinerator on the Tennessee River in Calvert City closed, and they were successful. They later advocated for compensation for workers whose health was impacted by their work at the US Department of Energy’s Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant; this was also a successful campaign. When people have been harmed, justice will prevail when persistence is applied, and you understand your opposition.

4. Vision is fraught with responsibility. The New Madrid earthquake of 1811-12 changed the course of the Mississippi River for a few days and formed Reelfoot Lake. In the 1980s, Whitehead’s research was primarily responsible for bringing public awareness of the earthquake vulnerability of the areas of western Kentucky and Tennessee and southeast Missouri. Agencies such as TVA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DOE, along with the U.S. Geological Survey Service were persuaded to assist in addressing the emergency management requirements of the region. Vision requires those who have it to accept the responsibility to get things done.

In 1990 when we established Armstrong and Associates (www.ldarrylarmstrong.com), I received a facilitation contract for DOE for a series of public meetings in Kentucky and Tennessee.

At the initial session in Paducah, I saw Whitehead for the first time in several years. We greeted each other respectfully, and she seemed pleased when I explained that I had started our firm with the mission of engaging in collaboration, often between differing parties, that would lead to mutually agreeable outcomes. I am grateful I had the foresight to thank her that evening for what she had taught me and others about the need for dialogue and collaboration in the face of disagreement.

With a sly smile and a firm handshake, she looked me directly in the eye and with authority said, “And don’t you forget it.”

Whitehead was an example of what Dr. Margaret Meade, the great anthropologist, and sociologist once exclaimed, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.”

L. Darryl Armstrong is a crisis prevention and management consultant. He can be reached at 1-888-340-2006 or drdarryl@aol.com. His website is http://www.ldarrylarmstrong.com. He is available on a limited basis for speaking engagements and workshops.

“The Donald” and Hillary would be wise to “actively listen” to “We the people …”

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would do well to understand the importance of “actively listening” to “We the people …” Openness, transparency, actively listening and continual feedback are critical to the success of any public engagement process.

Six steps to prepare your small business for a disaster

Let’s hope and pray that you never have a disaster however the chances increase daily.

Many of you reading this have most likely followed the looting and rioting that occurred following the Grand Jury’s decisions in Ferguson, Mo and New York City.  The actions of the rioters and looters on small businesses was deplorable and I sincerely hope, yet doubt, that those responsible for breaking into stores and looting will be arrested and prosecuted. Sadly, many of those businesses had not appropriately prepared for such an incident.

As a small business owner there are several things you should do in advance to protect yourself, your employees and your business during a disaster.

First, you must develop a disaster preparedness plan.

This planning is as essential as developing a business plan. Having a disaster plan in place will make the difference between being shut down for a few days, and losing your livelihood forever. The plan should be thoughtfully designed to cover all possible contingencies. You may never face a riot however the chances of an earthquake, fire, flood, tornado or even a robbery in western Kentucky is significant.

Second, get your insurances in order.

We recommend that you have a personal and ongoing relationship with your insurance agent. Choose one who understands the needs of your business and meet with him/her annually to assess and reassess your needs.

If you are in a store-front business such as a convenience store you will need business-interruption insurance. This is the type of insurance that replaces income lost when a business suffers downtime due to a covered peril, which means that you must understand fully what perils are covered.

Many insurance companies no longer cover such things as terrorist, rioting and looting events. Know and understand fully what you are paying for and be a good business person by shopping around for the right agent and a company that will meet your needs.

Here is what I mean by this – your agent is the person you will depend upon to facilitate and handle claims and settlements for you. This person’s behavioral, management and personality styles should at least be complementary to your own. However, if you tend to be a tentative person who will not fight for your rights, you may wish to ensure that you have an insurance agent who will and is truly on your side.

A few years ago, we actually changed our insurance agent even though the company we had insurance with at the time charged a lesser premium. Why? Frankly, this insurance agent would not promptly return our telephone calls, answer our questions with clarity or handle our issues and reimbursements quickly and fairly.

If this is your agent – he/she needs training in customer service and you are not paying him/her to be less than customer focused. Find an agent that meets your expectations and that you are comfortable with while understanding that you as a customer is of paramount importance to him/her.

Third, remember that normal hazard insurance doesn’t cover floods.

It is vitally important that you make sure you have designated flood insurance. Also, ensure that you fully understand what your insurance covers and what is not covered.

Fourth, as the business owner, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I prepared to relocate temporarily? Where might we do this?
  • What would happen if my suppliers were shut down due to an emergency or disaster?
  • Do you employees know what to do in case of an emergency or a disaster?

For example, employees should know where all the emergency exits are located in your building.  A safety coordinator should be appointed and trained. This is the person who will take responsibility for making sure that all the fire extinguishers, security systems and close-circuit television cameras work and that all emergency exits are operational.

This person will plan and conduct safety and fire drills and develop evacuation and business recovery plans. Obviously in many small businesses this will be you as the owner!

Fifth, backup and store vital business records offsite.

Information stored on paper and computer, should be copied and saved on a backup hard drive at an offsite location at least 50 miles away from the main business site, advises the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This is where we would disagree with FEMA. We recommend using “cloud” computer services to back up your information so they can be accessible from anywhere at any time. Setup and use a password system and ensure that you and at least two other trusted employees have access to that password.

Sixth, develop a simple, easy to follow “business recovery communications” plan.

Assign key employees as facilitators who during a disaster will contact suppliers, creditors, other employees, customers, and utility companies to get the word out that the business is still viable and is in need of assistance in the recovery.

Get yourself trained and train at least one preferably two other persons to be a media spokesperson to keep the public informed of your rebuilding efforts, if necessary.

Finally, recognize and understand that the more strategic planning you do on the front-end the better. The last thing you need to be doing is planning for a disaster when it is underway or impending.

Our mantra about preparing and strategically planning for a disaster has remained the same the past 40-years: “Always plan for the worst, while praying for the best.”

It is overdue that all government agencies become open and transparent … The LBL Issue

LBL morning landscape

Land Between The Lakes

To Those Interested:

Sadly, it is once again time to have our elected officials at the local, state and federal level step to the plate and stop the US Forest Service at Land Between The Lakes from making a mockery of the commitments made to the former residents, users, visitors and taxpayers.

The most recent petition drive to stop the clear-cutting and burning at this 170,000 national outdoor recreation, education and resource management area is the latest eruption in the ongoing battle to get a federal agency back in line to serve its constituency.

Everyone should understand that the USFS actions directly impacts the local tourism economy of western Kentucky and ultimately the Commonwealth’ s economy, so I am sure the Governor and Kentucky State legislators are already in touch with the locally elected officials to stop these actions. If not, now is the time for them to step up and speak out.

I commend the work of Lyon Judge Wade White and Trigg County Judge Hollis White, and Professor David Nickell and others who have committed to engaging in openness and transparency to inform and educate those with an interest in LBL  – this is something that too many local, state and federal governments only say they will do.

They are effectively using social and traditional media to push their opposition on the USFS actions out to the people that count – the former residents, the taxpayers, the users and the visitors to this national treasure. They must keep up the openness and transparency and continue to inform, educate and collaborate with those they serve and insist that the federal managers come to the table to resolve this crisis that the USFS created.

Any well-read or TV-versed person knows that the Obama administration has demonstrated they are “big on hat, short on cattle” when it comes to openness and transparency and, therefore, it seems the US Forest Service can be the same. Well, USFS you are wrong! You have been called out.

I am not surprised that Land Between The Lakes talking head Jan Bush says U.S. Forestry officials don’t plan to attend the February 26th public meeting, but they look forward to the dialogue that follows. I have to ask, how will you know what that dialogue is Ms. Bush if you don’t attend?

Knowing how the federal government works, after spending almost two decades trying to make it an open and transparent government that sought out public opinion and dialogue before making decisions that impacted its customers, all I can say is “I am sure the USFS management and employees are waiting with baited breathe over at LBL to hear the outcome of this meeting.”

According to local media sources, Wade White of Lyon County and Hollis Alexander of Trigg County are encouraging community members to voice concerns at a public meeting they’re planning for February 26th in Grand Rivers. White says logging and burning ongoing in the northern portion of LBL makes the landscape look devastated.

“If we truly are a recreational area like what was promised back in the 60s, to draw in people so it helps our economies all around, that’s not happening,” said White. “That’s not going to happen if it becomes a tree farm.”

White has been publicly critical of logging and burning operations in LBL both on his and Lyon County’s Facebook page. He’s raising funds to bolster his efforts with a media campaign, says the tax funded National Public Radio website WKMS at Murray State University.

Judge White I strongly urge you to sit down with the all the tourism commissions in the area and voice your concern. Kentucky Western Waterlands, Inc. should be speaking up on behalf of the regional tourism businesses.

Also, Judge White and Alexander please contact the Southeast Outdoor Press Association (http://seopa.org); The Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Association (http://aglowinfo.org); The National Outdoor Writers Association (http://owaa.org); the Tennessee and Kentucky Press associations and outdoor writer association and such imminent and respected outdoor writers as Wade Bourne (http://www.wadebourneoutdoors.com/ ) in Clarksville, Tenn.; Steve Vantress in Paducah, and Bill Evans, Vice President of Operations and News at WPSD-TV and let them know of this egregious issue and the opposition and give them interviews, fact sheets, photographs and video. Take this story to the world and I assure you these people will respond.

We support Judge White and Judge Alexander; however, just as we saw with the US Corps of Engineers attempts to recently ram down a new policy about fishing below Barkley Dam without public input and consideration these judges will have to have the total support of Congressman Whitfield and Senators McConnell and Paul to stop this outrageous activity. Now, is the time to insist that the state and federal representatives publicly speak up and demonstrate their support of your viewpoints.

This time federal legislation must be designed to also include a provision that stops such excessive forestry practices and ensures that all roads to all cemeteries in LBL will be maintained and remain open at all times. The legislation should focus any agency that runs this project on operation and maintenance of existing facilities, confine them to the facilities they currently have with no more commercialization expansion and insist that they are at all times engaged with the public seeking input, comment and collaborative decision-making.

Make no mistake to stop this action will require federal legislation, supported by the state of Kentucky and Tennessee and the local and state elected officials.

As concerned citizens and taxpayers, call and write your federally elected officials, your Governor and state legislators and insist they attend this meeting. Ask them the federally elected representatives to intervene legislatively and insist while they are at it that they insist the USFS demonstrate enough courage to come to these meetings and hear the public’s views, issues, concerns and dialogue.

It is time that government at all levels actively seek out and engage those who pay their salaries and fund their budgets — the taxpayers. In fact, that time is long overdue!

Finally, drive over to LBL and see this situation for yourselves. Call Judge White and Alexander and talk to them and express your opinions, attend this meeting on February 26th in Grand Rivers; call WPSD-TV, the Paducah Sun and your local newspapers and insist they attend.

Use your own personal social media sites to get your messages and opinions out there, whatever they might be and insist that the USFS become open and transparent.

Finally, Judge White and Alexander file Freedom of Information Acts requesting all documents dealing with this and all management issues of concern and if it is found that someone sitting in the southwestern United States wrote this management plan reveal that fact to the public.

Go to these sites to learn more and attend these meetings to voice your opinions, your outrage and or your concern: