Commission continues to protect

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 28, 2000

its secrets, failing duty to public

A month after first coming up with a three way tie, the Pike County Commission finally named the county’s new Emergency Management Agency Director, but still has not revealed the results of a secret ballot vote taken more than a month ago under highly questionable circumstances.

A unanimous vote made Larry Davis of Brundidge the new full-time EMA director for Pike County. He will replace part-time EMA director Ralph Fowee who retired.

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Commissioners first put the decision between Davis, Michael Tatom and Deslie Galloway to a vote on Feb. 28. That vote ­ taken twice by secret ballot ­ resulted in the delay of a decision.

At its next meeting the commission again failed to select an EMA director because of the absence of one of the commissioners.

Now, the county commission claims to have unity on the issue that divided it a month ago. And it still fails to do one essential thing – inform the public of the qualifications of the candidates for the job.

Falling back on more back-room tactics, commissioners opted to discuss the topic in executive session, something allowed under law only when "the good name and character" of a person is discussed or called into question.

But the elusive part of this issue remains. The commission seems to believe that an open discussion of qualifications is the same thing as calling into question "good and character" of the person or persons discussed. This is not the case.

The people have a right to know who the most qualified applicant for this position is, and members of the county commission have not done a very admirable job of letting them know. This can effectively be done without any blemishes on the good name and character of those involved.

In essence, the county commission has failed its duty of service to the people of Pike County. By refusing to meet openly to discuss the candidates for this position, by failing to allow their personal opinions and ideas on this issue to be known, and by again falling into what seems to be a perpetual pattern of fleeing from the public eye, commissioners continue to neglect being forthright with those they serve.

And this is something that their constituents should consider at election time.

Even more puzzling still in this complex issue is how what was once a three-way tie resulted in a unanimous decision – with no meeting time since the tie for commissioners to openly discuss the matter.

It is unfortunate that the commission has still not openly revealed the results of the highly questionable secret ballot vote that was taken a month ago, an action we think the public has the right to witness. Only by making such an action public can all the constituents in Pike County know and understand the logic and positions of their paid elected leaders.

The questionable process by which the EMA director was first debated does not, however, reflect on Davis, his character or his ability to do the job. We are certain that he possesses the skills, abilities and qualifications to serve county residents and to keep them as safe as possible from disaster. Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about the qualifications of the other candidates for the position.

We still believe the public’s right to know was slighted in this process, and we hope that in the future, the Pike County Commission will refrain from covert, back-room tactics designed to save them from facing any criticism. After all, where would we be if we were not allowed knowledge of how our elected leaders voted on the issues when they were in the company of their peers? A public vote is the only way to protect the public’s best interests.

March 27, 2000 10 PM  

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