Et tu, Polk County? The blame game, fake news, and political  self-preservation in Polk County

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2017

If you’re an interested or casual observer of local politics, then perhaps nothing could be more disheartening than to read the Bulletin’s in-depth reporting of the contentious issue of property evaluations in Polk County. It’s become a scandal, and, no, it’s not because taxes were raised by our Board of Commissioners but inasmuch as they not only won’t take responsibility for their actions, but, instead, engage in the only-too-familiar political game of buck-passing and blame-avoidance, all in anticipation that public awareness quickly will move on to another attention-grabbing occurrence, hopefully a successful international equestrian event. Yet in so doing, our Com-missioners inadvertently have undermined one of the thinnest conditions of our democracy, that of holding officials accountable for their actions. You see, they’re not to blame for all this mess. The state of North Carolina is, and they’ve likely created a fake news story to prove it. If you want to visualize what a blame avoidance society ultimately looks like, then look at Russia and at what’s happening here in America. Et tu, Polk County? Polk County’s wimpy “resolution” to fellow Republican representatives Ralph Hise and Cody Henson is a textbook ex-ample of the uses and abuses of an apparently believable news story. There’s nothing better than proposing a symbolic reform, the more complicated the better, to deflect blame. It’s the “system’s” fault, you see, and not our help-less Commissioners who really want to lower your taxes. Not surprisingly, Hise and Henson can do nothing to help Polk County. Why? As Hise ex-plained, “changes to our state’s constitution are more complex than changing a law, and would require a statewide base of sup-port.” “Complex” and “state-wide” gets Polk County off the hook, doesn’t it? Carefully read both letters from Hise and Henson in the Bulletin and you will be struck by the fact that no one, no human being is to blame for anything. Only laws. And Constitutions. Yet all this is just political entertainment to deflect blame, not change the system, and nothing will be done that effectively addresses the root problem of tax inequality or of helping those affected. Moreover, such publicly visible blame games mask that which goes on in private meetings. Smart enough to know when they were in trouble with an angry constituency over taxes they promised not to raise, Commissioners, seeking to avoid becoming a scapegoat, instead found another, not surprisingly one much further away from Columbus and only too easy a blame-taker, friendly representatives in Raleigh. In probable collaboration with Hise and Henson, County Manager Marche Pittman, Hu-man Services Director Joshua Kennedy, and Commissioner Jake Johnson seemingly negotiated a fake news story built around a symbolic reform that won’t happen, one that allowed Polk County’s majority com-missioners to become righteously indignant in defending their constituents and also the lone Democrat, Ray Gasperson, to point to Republicans who have a “veto-proof majority in both houses” and could pass any laws they choose, a carefully negotiated act of self-preservation. One actor in this entertaining and apparent charade, Commissioner Jake Johnson who does not own any property in the County, who readily supported tax reevaluation, and who helped negotiate the Hise and Henson responses, dutifully was “discouraged” by the their actions. Why? “Our state laws give us little or no control over the valuations that have hit some of our citizens so hard.” Sound familiar? Then comes his act of political self-preservation. “I will continue to strive for a fiscally conservative budget that that keeps the tax base as low as possible so our citizens can keep more of their own money.” The glibness and sincerity with which such preachments are delivered should trouble us all. Our Commissioners should be ashamed at how they have handled the issue of property valuations, but like everything else, that embarrassment can be spun into righteous indignation in the name of self-preservation. It’s all a game to them but, to us, it’s our lives and property. Sad.

Milton Ready,
Tryon, N.C.

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