A bit of a stumble out of the gate can be forgiven among newcomers in any endeavor, but that stumble also means more intense scrutiny is likely to follow.
That’s exactly what happened with the new Jackson County commissioners, and voters are surely hoping there are better times to come.
A perfect storm of factors — bad economy, controversial county manager, and the pre-election Tea Party surge, among them — led voters to sweep every incumbent up for election out the door in the Jackson County commissioners race.
Citing those factors and others as a reason for the victory is not meant as a criticism of the new commissioners. The three — Jack Debnam, Charles Elders and Doug Cody — obviously impressed a lot of voters they came into contact with. Americans have a near religious fervor regarding the will of the people, and that will expresses itself every time we hold an election. It’s winners take all, and that’s just the way it is.
No, critics of any newly elected leaders would be advised to wait until those leaders take office — or at least begin making decisions — to start finding fault. In Jackson County, that didn’t take very long.
First was the way the retirement of Ken Westmoreland was handled. There was little doubt Westmoreland and the new board would not see eye to eye, and that his tenure as county manager was, for all intents and purposes, over. And as Westmoreland himself told this newspaper, a new board “has every right, prerogative and the authority to put in their own management team …. I don’t understand why (Jack Debnam) felt the need to deny it, but it just didn’t come out that way, I guess.”
Westmoreland is referring to Debnam’s leak to the local media that Westmoreland had decided to retire, and Debnam saying the county manager had done so of his own volition. Westmoreland denies that it was his decision. He said Debnam put it to him like this: “He said, ‘the three of us have talked it over and we would like a change.’”
So one of the two men is dead wrong, which means someone is lying. Let’s just repeat the earlier assertion, that this wasn’t handled very cleanly.
There are also a couple of other issues with the early work of the new board. It changed the starting time of one of its monthly meetings to 2 p.m. That means any working folks are excluded. That doesn’t send a very good message.
The board also moved the public comment session of its meeting to the very end of the agenda. I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended hundreds of public meetings over the years, and they are, well, somewhat less than riveting. To make citizens who want to talk hang around until commissioners have finished their business is, well, a bit rude. Let the public have their say and then leave. They aren’t paid to be there, but commissioners are.
As I said early on, even elected officials deserve a bit of a pass on early mistakes. What citizens want is sound, thoughtful leadership. Only time will tell if this is what they got.