In the 1824 election John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and William Crawford sought the presidency. None won a majority of Electoral College votes so the 12th Amendment dictated the election be decided in the House of Representatives among the top three vote getters, thus eliminating Clay. As House Speaker, Clay gave his support to Adams who was elected. Adams later made Clay his Secretary of State. Jackson’s supporters denounced this as a “corrupt bargain.” In recent years, Ashe County government leaders have engaged in a number of their own corrupt bargains.
Though their actions may have technically been legal and without malfeasance, several of our current and former county commissioners, and our current county manager, have lost any moral authority they ever held. Commissioners Larry Rhodes and William Sands are exceptions who’ve often acted in the county’s best interest.
Beginning with the forced dismissals of two competent county managers, Dan McMillan and Pat Mitchell, Ashe Countians are still waiting on an explanation. In the case of Mitchell, who was immediately hired by the governor due to her extraordinary abilities, it seems the sole reason was so accountant Sam Yearick, a political partisan and an applicant with limited relevant experience, could be hired. In fact, Yearick’s primary qualification appears to have been his chairmanship of Caldwell County’s Republican Party.
Although he’s registered to vote in Ashe County, unlike his predecessors who were fulltime residents and subject to the decisions they made such as tax rates, county services, etc., Yearick commutes to and from his home in Caldwell County on the weekends. Why didn’t the commissioners require him to live in the county he manages fulltime? His tenure as county manager has only been remarkable because of its ineptness. Yet this hasn’t deterred the commissioners occupying the Three Stooges’ chairs, led by Gary Roark, from engaging in incestuous single party political back-scratching.
Fearing voters might reject them due to their demonstrated incompetence, before last year’s election, and over the objections of Rhodes and Sands, the commissioners gave Yearick a sweetheart deal by extending his contract for two years, doubling his severance payout to $170,000 in order to deter his termination by future commissioners and authorizing him a $600 monthly driving allowance.
It’s widely known that Yearick and Roark are “as thick as thieves.” Yet even I was surprised that this Laurel and Hardy political duo would be so openly brazen in their contempt for all Ashe Countians with respect to the county maintenance supervisor position.
For Roark, a sitting commissioner and one of Yearick’s supervisors to have even applied for the job is troubling, but not surprising as he’s long demonstrated poor judgment. But for Yearick, the supposed professional, to have “agonizingly” hired one of his bosses to serve as his subordinate is a huge conflict of interest, an obvious quid pro quo and just more proof that Yearick is a career pencil pusher and isn’t up to the job of county manager which requires real leadership.
Like many of you, I laughed out loud when I read Yearick’s claim the geriatric Roark was the best qualified applicant. Apparently Yearick doesn’t understand that maintenance and contracting, while similar, are not the same thing.
If a contractor were needed, does anyone think this Medicare and Social Security recipient, whose also getting a military pension and commissioner’s salary, should be drawing another government paycheck rather than the job going to someone whose actually qualified, who needs it and could serve a lengthy tenure? If Roark were the best contractor in Ashe County, as Yearick boasts, he’d be building houses. He isn’t; enough said. This arrangement is absolutely a morally corrupt bargain.
But it’s not the only one that’s taken place this year. The “installation” of Terry Buchanan as sheriff by the three commissioners currently sitting in the Stooges’ chairs effectively overturned the will of 70 percent of the voters who’d elected James Williams and demonstrated high confidence in his administration and succession plan.
Both Williams and Chief Deputy Bucky Absher told me Roark had looked them in the eye and said he was supporting Absher for Sheriff. Then, in another morally corrupt bargain, Roark went behind their backs and voted for the demonstrably less qualified Buchannan simply because he’s a Republican. This confirms what we’ve known all along: Roark wasn’t man enough to tell them to their faces, he lacks integrity and he lost his moral authority long ago.
Speaking of lost moral authority, look at Buchanan. When he initially sought the position of sheriff he claimed he had great respect for Williams. But soon after he was installed and the political fallout reached a fever pitch against the decision, he took the low road by bad-mouthing Williams. “There was no direction and no leadership when I took office,” said Buchanan. “This is a mess we’ve inherited.” Seventy percent of voters disagreed with Buchanan’s characterization and his remarks only undermine his own authority and show him to be petty and insecure.
How did Williams respond? He ignored Buchanan’s pitiful protestations and called Buchanan to tell him he was due more salary as Buchanan apparently wasn’t sharp enough to know what his compensation should’ve been before he accepted the position. This speaks volumes concerning Williams’ moral authority and is why so many in the county supported him and Absher. If Absher runs in the next election, Buchanan’s term as sheriff will be short-lived.
The real “mess” in Ashe County is its single party Republican rule. Roark and Yearick are opposite sides of a walking billboard that says, “Ashe County’s biggest embarrassment.” If either of them had any intestinal fortitude they’d immediately resign. Moral corruption can be just as bad as the illegal kind and until voters put competent individuals on the board of commissioners the county will continue to limp along going from one corrupt bargain to another.