It’s been six years since Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and her former campaign manager, Tollie Strode, parted ways.
But their ongoing feud flared up again Tuesday at a Columbus Council meeting.
Strode’s wife, Gloria, showed up at the City Services Center with some strong words for city leaders, saying that her husband had been disrespected at a Jan. 24 meeting.
At that meeting, Tollie Strode had given a PowerPoint presentation, calling for changes to the city’s finance operation. He said he was speaking on behalf of the CCG Accountability Forum, which has launched an initiative called Columbus Refocus, in response to the defeated Thaw the Freeze referendum. The referendum, which Strode opposed, was one of the mayor’s most high-profile initiatives.
Tollie Strode ran over the 10 minute limit, and Tomlinson said it would be unfair to let him speak longer than others. Councilor Glenn Davis made a motion for him to continue, which was defeated. Tomlinson recommended that Tollie Strode return for a work session, which would give him more time to speak. She also suggested he meet with city staff to go over the numbers. And Councilor Bruce Huff invited him to Tuesday’s meeting.
At the end of Tollie Strode’s Jan. 24 presentation, City Manager Isaiah Hugley thanked him for his work, but disagreed with his conclusions: “It would be helpful, after you get your information from CAFR or wherever you get your information from, if you would schedule some time with me or staff, allow us to explain it to you before you put too much effort into creating graphics, and charts, and publishing information to city councilors, and the media and to the world,” he said. “I think it would help you and it would help us.”
On Tuesday, Tollie and Gloria Strode were both on the public agenda. Gloria Strode said she was speaking on behalf of a Concerned Citizens of Columbus group and focused on the Jan. 24 incident. Her defense of her husband came on Valentine’s Day, which she referred to at the end of her comments.
“... The last time he was here and the way that he was treated, it was unbelievable,” she said. “ ... When citizens come here — we watch this all the time — it’s shameful the way that some people are treated. It’s just not OK.”
Gloria Strode said elected officials and city employees work for the taxpayers who have a right to express concerns.
“I am not one to be bullied,” she said. “... It’s just not going to happen. So if you want me to come every week, I can do that.
“That is my spouse. I’m not somebody’s secret lover,” she added. “If you want to disrespect people, disrespect people in your circle.”
During her speech, Gloria Strode stressed all the work that the couple has done in the community over the years. She said she’s a Columbus native who returned to the city to care for her late father with the support of her husband of 37 years. She also hosts a local Sunday morning television program called “Straight Forward” on the CW broadcasting network.
She explained how her husband came to Fort Benning, by way of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, for a basic officer’s training course, and how he has been an asset to the community.
Drawing to a close, she mentioned relationships that the couple has had with the mayor and other elected officials over the years, referring specifically to Councilors Bruce Huff and Judy Thomas.
“Bruce, we worked the mayor’s race for Frank Martin,” she said. “Judy, we worked Jim Wetherington’s mayor’s race. And Teresa, Tollie was your campaign manager. A lot of people don’t know that. So it’s not that he’s not a credible person. How did he do all these things in the community all these years?
“So, I’m hoping today when I walk away that all that punting the ball, throwing shade, all of that; I just hope we don’t do that today,” she added. “Because I hate to use my TV show to have to address this every Sunday. And I hate to come here every week, but I can do it. Because it’s not OK.”
Tollie Strode served as Tomlinson’s campaign manager when she was first elected in 2010. But after the election, the two had a falling out. Since then, the Strodes have been among the mayor’s most ardent critics. In 2013, they were among those who opposed the Columbus Housing Authority’s plans to build 100 apartments in the Liberty District, which the mayor strongly supported. Tollie Strode has also sparred with the city over crime rates and budgeting issues.
On Tuesday, neither Hugley nor Tomlinson responded directly to Gloria Strode’s comments. But Councilors Jerry “Pops” Barnes and Bruce Huff replied.
“Well, Gloria, Tollie, first of all, I believe in participatory government,” Barnes said. “You’ve never heard a word out of my mouth when people come down, and you won’t, because I enjoy it. I tell people to get on the public agenda.”
He said he’s familiar with the Concerned Citizens of Columbus Forum, and wishes more members of the group had showed up to support Tollie Strode at the Jan. 24 meeting.
“We as a city government, we’re not perfect,” he said. “Nobody is perfect, no organization is perfect. So we need checks and balances. And you’re right. Nobody should come down here and be disrespected.”
Huff thanked the Strodes for their support over the years and the work that they do in the community. He also thanked the couple for returning to council with their concerns.
When Tollie Strode stood up to discuss his concerns about city finances, he wished everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day.
“It’s sort of hard to follow Mrs. Gloria Strode,” he said. “She’s, like she said, my life partner, and my ride-or-die, in the vernacular of the kids now-a-days.”