Few things are more challenging and personally draining than stepping forward in service to your fellow citizens. I’ve been close a number of public servants; I know the sacrifices involved and the toll it takes. Tough choices, unpopular but necessary actions, and general distrust and suspicion come with the territory. It’s a hard, lonely job, but someone has to do it. That’s why I never intentionally disrespect anyone willing to serve in elected office at any level — especially a local one.
But, comments sent to this newspaper from Newton County Commissioners John Douglas and Levie Maddox and former Commissioner Mort Ewing defending the Board of Commissioners’ recent reappointment of County Attorney Tommy Craig cross a line from public service to something else. In keeping with the respect these men deserve for their service, I’m not calling them names or attacking them personally. But, their comments and the views reflected smack of arrogance and miss the point.
Douglas and Maddox begin their letter saying “we are humbled by the opportunity to serve the citizens,” while ending it referring to concerned, engaged citizens as “a modern day lynch mob.” They call the public outcry over Craig’s reappointment “angry noise.”
Their “lynch mob” reference stands in puzzling contrast to Ewing’s statement in his letter two weeks earlier, saying the current board “did not want or need to hear from the same 12 citizens that show up at most commission meetings to make negative comments about their subject of the day.”
We need engaged, informed citizens now more than ever in this county. If this is the issue that wakes them and calls them to become involved, that’s a good thing.
With the dissolution of the 2050 Plan, many open questions around our current and future water needs, and concerns over the County Attorney’s role in so much of the county’s business, we need people coming together. We need broad consensus and hands-on public support for a shared agenda. Name calling and belittling of those who care enough to get involved and do their homework to become informed is not helping. It’s not leadership, and it’s clearly not public service.
The Covington News editorial board hit the nail on the head last week: “The ultimate issue is the elected leadership of the county, and the refusal of those who serve us as county commissioners to step to the forefront and truly be accountable for their actions.”
Back to my opening, I know this is hard. But, Douglas, Maddox, and Ewing have badly misread the tea leaves on this one. If they believe this is only a concern for an isolated group of malcontents, they need to get out more. On the streets, at the breakfast tables, and across social media, they would find an impressive cross-section of this community sharing views and discussing options – without regards for party affiliation, political ideology, or generational tenure in Newton County.
Such awareness, focus, and unity are the kind of community dynamic a strong leader should love. It’s also something a weak leader should fear.
So, what’s it going to be?