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Posted: November 11, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Does anybody really care?

If only I could turn my thoughts to all that's pleasant this time of year. Aren't the trees just gorgeous? And what about these perfect, blue-sky days we've enjoyed?

Today is Veterans' Day, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Who's coming, and what will I cook for the family potluck dinner that happens at our house every year? Christmas is not far behind. The Christmas parade is Saturday, Dec. 3, and Twilights at Chimney Park follows the next day. Busy hands are decorating the park for the several hundred kids and grownups who always turn out on what is usually the coldest day of the year. Gosh, I need to be thinking about the annual party for the women of our church who will gather here mid-December.

And don't forget the three chances we'll have to see "The Nutcracker" ballet performed by the Covington Regional Ballet. Oh, and if we're going away for New Year's, there are kennel reservations to be made.

If only my brain would let me think on these things, I'd be feeling much more content that I am. Instead, I'm still pondering the meaning of this week's city elections and county commission action.

Need I say it was a clear and resounding defeat for Bobby Sigman's campaign for Covington mayor? It was only after the fact that the candidate sounded contrite and remorseful for the actions that killed any hopes he had of achieving a lifetime goal. There were plenty who had said he was going to have his best chance ever of winning the office because he was going up against a candidate fairly new to town and mostly unknown. Because voters "knew" Bobby Sigman, they essentially chose someone they didn't know. In truth, Ronnie Johnston, the victor, made a valiant effort to get to know as many residents as possible in door-to-door campaigning. He proved himself to be someone interested in listening. His challenge will be to listen to all carefully, decide between facts and motives, and then make up his own mind and lead from there.

A couple of incumbents on city council got a loud and clear message, although only a pitiful number of people bothered to vote in those contested East Ward races. Both Mike Whatley and Keith Dalton came within somewhere around 20 votes of losing their seats to political novices, Ron Martin and Lamar Brown, respectively.

Incumbency is not tantamount to re-election, as it used to be, and I predict these incumbents are going to be doing some soul-searching to determine what actions they need to take to increase their approval rate because the challengers may be back. It seems clear the antics of this council haven't been acceptable to almost half the voters, and that should be a wake-up call.

The actual number of voters in Covington's city election was down slightly from four years ago. Only 1,364 registered voters - 21.4 percent of the total who could have voted - bothered themselves to cast a ballot. That means 78.6 percent of us "voted for" a candidate named "Who Cares?" to quote a keen observer of local government. In the East Ward with 3,713 voters, 2,854 people who could have voted just didn't.

Last Monday at a county commission work session, three commissioners - the usual block vote consisting of Mort Ewing, Tim Fleming and J.C. Henderson - decided with Tommy Craig's back-up they will run Newton County with the help of a hired manager type, not the chairman elected by the voters three years ago. On Tuesday, they plan to strip duties from the chair and vest them in a newly titled individual they will hire and no doubt control. John Middleton, the current administrative assistant, has resigned effective Dec. 15. It's too bad for the constituents of district commissioners Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims, who opposed the action the Ewing block pushed through.

This is something Mort has wanted ever since the current chair was elected and began to exercise the authority granted in the county charter. Before that, and Mort has suggested as much to some people, he "ran" the county with the assistance of the county attorney and the administrative assistant because a less assertive county chair had virtually ceded that right to him. Now he's taking it all back with the help of his predictable buddies.

It seems a sad day for the citizens of Newton County, that they aren't being consulted about an upending change in county governance. But based on voter turnout in the city elections, I wonder if county voters would send the same message: Who cares? It's not the way it's supposed to work if this is still a democracy. Or is it a Mort-ocracy?


Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She chairs the Newton Advisory Committee.

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