Obligations as a public servant

Published 9:31 pm Thursday, September 10, 2015

To the editor,
Polk County Commission Chair Tom Pack and two of his Republicans colleagues, Keith Holbert and Michael Gage, voted against re-appointing two members of the county’s animal cruelty investigations team, despite the fact that there were no other applicants for the position, both officers’ records are exemplary, and both enjoy the support of the community they serve. What, then, was their mistake? They signed a newspaper advertisement that supported Democratic candidates in a county commission election.

“I don’t feel obligated to vote for those that come out and publicly (ad in Tryon Daily Bulletin) try to sway others not to vote for us,” Pack said.

Holbert echoed the sentiment on his party’s local website: “Their public petition made me wonder if they would perform their duties on the Animal Cruelty Board in an unbiased manner, treating all citizens of Polk County fairly. Having doubt in their decision making, I chose not to re-appoint them to the board.”

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Gage’s justification is a need for “new blood.” Given the lack of competition for the openings, that argument doesn’t hold water. But for the time being, some may grant him the benefit of doubt, slim as it is.

The parallels with the travesty of justice that is the Kim Davis affair in Kentucky are striking. Davis is an elected county official who refuses to treat all marriage license applicants equally without respect to their sexual orientation, as she is directed to by the U.S. Constitution and the oath of office she swore when she assumed her post.


Pack and Holbert, likewise, refuse to treat all applicants for a county post equally, choosing to discriminate by political affiliation instead, violating the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression — which is meaningless if accompanied by the threat of retaliation from elected officials — and the oaths of office they swore that require them to uphold the laws of the country, state and county.

In both cases, there is a perfectly simple way out of the “dilemma” of choosing between how you would prefer to carry out your obligations as a public servant and what the law requires you to do: find another job.

Davis is entitled to believe that the creator of the universe does not want people of the same sex to share the advantages of marriage. She is not entitled, as county clerk, to act on that belief. Pack and Holbert are entitled to believe that Democrat-supporting citizens are incapable of serving the public fairly and honestly. They are not entitled, as commissioners, to act on that belief.

When you agree to serve the public, you agree to serve everyone, not just those with whom you share ideology, religion, or politics. This concept is so integral to any functioning democracy, that without it, the entire edifice of government would collapse. Those who don’t accept their responsibility to respect the law cannot be allowed to hold public office.


James Hrynyshyn
Saluda, N.C.