The camera crews and on-air personality from Atlanta’s Channel 11 were in Newton County last week for some in-your-face television journalism aimed at revealing to the world the sorry state of affairs in our local county government.
Specifically, the television report focused on the fact the county government pays its attorney more than a million dollars a year, and recently reappointed him despite the fact he owes substantial sums to the federal government for delinquent taxes and has in fact had liens placed on some of his properties.
The furtive chasing of county attorney Tommy Craig through the rain with a camera and microphone was meant to imply that he obviously was guilty of doing something wrong.
That there was nothing new in the information reported – his delinquent tax problems and substantial annual revenue from the county have all been documented before – did not prevent the TV report from making the county look as though we are a bunch of local yokels governed by a Boss Hogg with a legal degree.
But the real issue at hand isn’t Tommy Craig, his performance as county attorney, his personal IRS problems, nor the fees he is paid for the job he does. 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.
While the rainy chase of Craig by the news crew may have been dramatic, the personal interviews with county commissioners were also embarrassing. Through pointed questions the news crew was able to extrapolate and edit down answers to further push the agenda of portraying Newton County in a negative light.
Though answers were edited, we would have liked to have seen county officials be more forthright enough to say why they felt it appropriate to reappoint Mr. Craig to his position despite the IRS problems, why they thought it OK that the county pays more for legal fees than other counties in the state, why they think it’s appropriate for the county commission to frequently abdicate its responsibilities and entrust Mr. Craig to take care of things.
It is our elected officials who need to provide answers to pertinent questions about the situation, and who shouldn’t ignore righteous outrage of residents tired of seeing local tax money go down the legal drain.
It is the members of the county commission who have to take responsibility for their decisions, who should have the confidence to face the public and say, “Yes, we think Mr. Craig is the right man for the job and here is why.”
If, as it has been said, nature abhors a vacuum, then it is the nature of politics to abhor a vacuum of leadership. When those elected to lead fail to do so, someone else will step to the forefront to fill the void. In the case of Newton County, that someone has long been the county attorney, but his power and influence is made possible by those who refuse to do the job for which they were elected.
The real issue isn’t that Mr. Craig remains county attorney or the amount of money he is paid, but rather that those responsible for providing oversight for his actions, and billings, apparently are incapable of doing so.
That’s the sad fact that should have the people of the county outraged.