September 16, 2013
“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
Unfortunately, this is too apropos when observing our Ashe County Commissioners lately.
Judy Porter Poe, vice chair, was quoted in this newspaper on Aug. 30: “All the rumors flying around about the budget, and the commissioners are in political jeopardy,… chaos,…turmoil.” To the contrary, Ms. Poe, it is not the fault of rumors. It is clearly apparent in public record that dysfunction exists within your board.
When two of the five commissioners (Larry Rhodes and William Sands), along with most of Ashe County, are “stunned” by the sudden, unexplained forced resignation of a well-liked, capable, professional, hard-working county manager (Pat Mitchell); AND when two seemingly competent county managers are dismissed within two years with no valid reasons given; AND when the vice chair (Judy Poe) makes threatening remarks to county employees’ job security when they expressed their justified concern over the sudden dismissal of the county manager; AND when commissioners are suggesting changes to the $40 million county budget less than six weeks after they have passed it, discussing this in their private emails instead of within legitimate channels and meetings; AND when one of the commissioners (Gerald Price) wastes thousands of taxpayer dollars and government officials’ time in a lawsuit over a repossessed car; then, YES, one easily draws the conclusion that our commissioners are not only in political turmoil, but at least three of them are not qualified to maintain their positions in public office.
Former county manager Pat Mitchell worked hard for Ashe Countians and was principled in her work ethic. When she kept her appointments in Raleigh on Aug. 20 to help secure a half million dollars in grants for Ashe County on the day that she had been forced to resign, she was threatened by Commissioners Poe, Price, and Gary Roark that she could lose compensation for vacation, sick leave, and other benefits. Yet she was acting in the best interests of Ashe County by going to Raleigh, and the Aug. 19 motion requesting her termination clearly stated “she would be compensated through the end of the month and will receive benefits as entitled, and she will turn in all county equipment/property by 5pm Friday, August 23.”
The only reason I am able to read into Poe’s dissatisfaction with Mitchell is over the budget, yet Poe voted to approve the budget on June 18. While county commissioners were sending private emails in July and August about possible budget cuts, Mitchell sought to bring the ‘de facto’ budget review into the light of a formal discussion by placing it on the commissioners’ agenda on Aug. 19. She also expressed concern for how the commissioners are viewed by the public: “I don’t want to see the board criticized or questioned about ‘policy actions through emails.’ “
Most recently, an unidentified commissioner sent an email suggesting Rep. Jonathan Jordan be considered as interim manager, and some believe he has been pre-selected by the same three who ousted Mitchell. Poe, Price, and Roark are seemingly acting with secrecy and self-interest, not as public servants. They are abusing their positions of power. They are poor communicators, ineffective leaders, and unprofessional commissioners. Ashe County deserves better, and we, as Ashe County citizens, expect professional, accountable, transparent, and high-functioning government officials. We should not settle for less.