Three-ring circus: Ashe County Commissioners
One of the best parts of the circus is when the clown car motors into the center ring of the big top and all the clowns pile out. It always gets a big laugh from the crowd. But when the clowns turn out to be the Ashe County commissioners, it isn’t a laughing matter.
Back in 2011, the commissioners forced county manager Dan McMillan to resign without any public explanation given. Then, without even applying for the job, Dr. Pat Mitchell, the county’s chief of economic development, was hand-selected by the commissioners to replace McMillan. Last month she too was forced to resign and to date, again no reason has been provided. Now, during the same week the commissioners posted the announcement seeking applicants to fill the position, there are “rumors,” substantial enough to merit a media inquiry, that the commissioners have already pre-selected Rep. Jonathan Jordan as the next county manager. It really is a three-ring circus.
Good governance dictates that when the commissioners took the drastic action of forcing the county’s chief public administrator to resign in 2011 an explanation should’ve immediately followed. The fact that it didn’t demonstrated the lack of respect the commissioners had for the very public that elected them. Considering the ill-feelings then directed at the commissioners for their lack of candor and accountability, it’s simply astonishing that with the forced resignation of Mitchell, the commissioners again have given no justification for their actions. If there were grounds based on malfeasance or incompetence, it seems the commissioners would’ve said so. Since they didn’t, the only explanation that makes sense is that they’ve forced out two qualified public servants because of their own personal pettiness. Should we be surprised? Probably not; remember, it’s a clown act.
Rather than focusing on the many important issues in the county requiring competent decision making, Commissioner Gerald Price is preoccupied with his frivolous federal lawsuit against our sheriff and two deputies. It seem Price feels his constitutional rights have been violated because the sheriff carried out a court-ordered repossession of Price’s car based on the fact, as reported in the media, that Price had not made car payments for several months and then tried to discharge his delinquent loan by writing a check that was returned as “unable to locate account.”
Commissioner Judy Poe claims Mitchell showed “contempt” for the commissioners because she allegedly gave her resignation letter to the media before giving it to the full board of commissioners, her employers. Yet Poe and her fellow commissioners apparently see no contempt in the fact that they refuse to give an explanation for their actions to the voters of Ashe County, their employers. Furthermore, Poe went on record by threatening the jobs of county employees who considered protesting Mitchell’s forced resignation. The legal issues aside, when a person in a leadership position resorts to threats, that person has lost the moral authority to continue on as an effective leader.
At the time of Mitchell’s resignation, the first thing that went through my mind is how difficult it would be to get any highly qualified applicants to replace her due the back-to-back forced resignation of two county managers in two years. What professional would apply for the job when the well had been so poisoned? Then it all became clear when the Jefferson Post reported on the rumors that the commissioners have pre-selected Jonathan Jordan. Even if the rumors aren’t true, they only further poison the well. My suspicion is, however, that’s exactly what the commissioners intend to do. And based on Jordan’s record in the General Assembly, he already has his big red nose and floppy shoes.
What’s remarkable about Jordan is how unremarkable he’s been in advocating for folks he allegedly represents. He’s turned his back on every constituent group in Ashe County helping his colleagues in Raleigh turn North Carolina into the most extreme state in the country by, among other things, cutting unemployment benefits, refusing to expand Medicaid, restricting women’s healthcare by closing nearly every abortion clinic in the state, and putting in place the most repressive voter suppression law in the country. Although a lawyer, Jordan apparently isn’t up to speed on the constitutional principle of church/state separation as he was a principal sponsor of a bill to establish an official state religion. Fortunately it failed, but the totally unnecessary “No Sharia Law” did pass. Yes, Jordan would fit very nicely in the clown car as driver.
While I admire people who seek public service, we have some serious challenges in this county requiring competent leadership, yet our commissioners continue to make one strategic blunder after another. At the time Mitchell was given the job, dual-hatted as county manager and economic developer, I wasn’t in favor of it as I thought the span of control was too large for one person due to the problems we faced. But Mitchell is a highly capable professional and she’s already secured state employment, since her new boss, unlike her previous bosses, recognizes competence. With all that’s transpired, getting someone of her caliber in the job is going to be incredibly difficult. However, if the commissioners intend to hire Jordan for the job, this county better truly get ready for a circus; and it won’t be the “Greatest Show on Earth®.”
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