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A hiccup or just a hick

Troubled as we are by David Mayfield’s continual references to “his” police and “his” city council, we’re forced to agree with one thing he and a host of others — including this newspaper — have been saying.

As a community, Marion must dig itself out from under a steaming pile of manure dumped on it by officials — inept, corrupt, or both — who proposed, authorized, conducted, collaborated with, or applauded raids motivated less as a search for justice and more as a weapon to bully or embarrass.

Blame games don’t help. District Magistrate Laura Viar should have protected the constitution. County Attorney Joel Ensey should have taken time to actually read flimsy applications before sending them on to become warrants. But for Mayfield to blame them and not “his” police chief, Gideon Cody, is like John Dillinger blaming bank robberies on the lack of bank guards. All need to be held accountable. Delays in doing so merely reinforce our image of being hick.

The real question is, is Mayfield the HHIC — the head hick in charge — of a burg no one would ever want to settle or invest in? Or is Marion to be admired worldwide as a municipality where a hiccup of bad government was promptly detected, corrected, and inspected to ensure it never could happen again?

How do we get from hick to hiccup?

• Require background checks. The sheriff does. Why not the city and the county, which has its own problems with ambulance chief Curt Hasart?

Cody clearly demonstrated lapses in judgment well before he staged his infamous raids. Catching applicants’ lies of omission is one of the best ways to commission good government. And all it costs is a tiny bit of the swag, salaries, services, and simply unnecessary equipment lavished on government employees.

Clean up charter ordinances. Back in January, Marion’s council and city attorney agreed that the fundamental documents under which Marion operates its unique form of government are nothing short of a mess.

Rather than choose one of two options provided under state law — with mayors either as council chairmen or as chief executives — Marion broke with centuries of separation of powers and tried to give the mayor both roles, then tinkered with its ordinances so haphazardly that most of the powers are unclear.

It’s no coincidence problems with a long line of mayors began soon after these changes started being implemented 20 years ago.

Don’t allow elective officials to become rubber stamps. Too many of our representatives wait to see what perceived powers-that-be want, then make up their minds to approve whatever they speak highly of — all without taking time to thoroughly read and research proposals and reach out to average constituents for opinions.

Campaign promises rarely are kept. Mayfield proved that. But we all must ensure that heir apparent Mike Powers keeps his promise never to force the council to vote on issues at the same meeting at which they are introduced, guaranteeing time for reading, researching, and reaching out.

It was funny Tuesday night how council members wanted such time with proposals Herbel suggested but seem all too eager at other times to cast a rubber-stamp vote so they can rush home to watch “Wheel of Fortune.”

Realize “deep state” isn’t just inside the Beltway. It’s sinful that council members were unable to answer citizens’ questions Tuesday about what over-inflated budget lines actually would buy.

The reason is that department heads and City Administrator Brogan Jones never took budget requests to them. Instead, they wrote a “Dear Santa” letter that ended with a threat that failure to fulfill every wish on it would send the city into financial ruin.

Council members need to insist on thorough hearings rather than wait until the last minute to question 13½% tax increases.

They need to know that budgeting isn’t solely about creating reserves — something accountant Scot Loyd preaches not just in Marion but at every stop on his budgetary gravy train.

They also need to have the courage to go against the bureaucracy and demand that employees not automatically assume they have authority to spend money simply because it was in the budget.

Appropriation is one thing. Authorization is another. They need both to be able to spend.

Citizens need to volunteer to carry the ball. Elected officials sometimes confuse a lack of speakers questioning their plans with a lack of questions among the populace.

Only a few brave citizens seem willing to incur the wrath of powers-that-be. Others need to start joining them before the brave souls willing to ask questions get so worn down from constant pounding that they cannot provide an effective counterbalance.

Democracy is all about disagreeing and then talking long enough to come together in agreement. If initial disagreement is stymied, so is democracy.

A key reason some try to portray local politics as a battle between this newspaper and powers-that-be is that newspapers are, by their very nature, charged with speaking for the voiceless and arguing for those who cannot easily be heard.

To some, that makes us negative. To others, it makes us American.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified Sept. 7, 2023

 

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