08/16/05 — Criticism OK: But our elected officials deserve appreciation

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Criticism OK: But our elected officials deserve appreciation

Wayne County Commissioner Jack Best is not the most verbose elected official in our area. But when he speaks, people listen. He has something important to say and he doesn’t mince words.

Best spoke out at a recent commissioners meeting. During the segment provided for public comment, a citizen referred to elected officials as “pirates” who “pad their own pockets” and do not care for the people they represent.

The speaker was Willie Ray Starling, an affable political activist who has offered unsuccessfully for public office a number of times.

Best, uncharacteristically, interrupted. He said he objected “100 percent” to Starling’s allegations, admonishing him, “I am not a pirate” and declaring that he was not serving in his own self-interest.

While he did not mention it, Commissioner Best does not accept any compensation for his service on the board.

Later Commissioner Efton Sager also spoke up in defense of those serving on the board. He noted that while they had voted to raise taxes it was because the county had been holding the rate down by drawing money from its reserve fund.

He suggested that raising taxes to meet budgetary needs was fiscally responsible.

Sager said he did not object to anyone questioning his judgment — “but not my honesty.”

Starling was quick to respond that in his remarks he was not referring to any individual member of the board.

There could be a lesson here for all of us who, sometimes in frustration, speak critically of our governing bodies and elected officials. Certainly if we are going to speak out publicly, let us be specific, definitively spelling out the shortcomings and who made them.

Over the years, this newspaper, through its reporters and editors, has followed closely the workings of governing bodies at the city, county and state levels. Some of our elected officials have been stronger and more effective than others. But almost without exception, they have shared a common trait: They have acted always in what they sincerely felt were the best interests of their people. And most serve at a sacrifice of family time and personal resources.

If over the last half a century there were any bent on lining their own pockets, they escaped our scrutiny.

Did we disagree with some of their actions? Most assuredly.

Did we question their honesty or sincerity? Never. 

Published in Editorials on August 16, 2005 10:52 AM