Questions are OK; vicious attacks cross the line

Let's disagree respectfully
Jun 19, 2014

Since the beginning of this nation, public service has been an honorable profession, whether as an elected leader or as a public employee. That has changed over time, especially with the political polarization at the national level and the inability of Congress to move forward on any issue.

At the local level, however, the situation in Haywood County is markedly different. The public officials are accessible, forthcoming with information and are, more often than not, delighted to talk issues with people who have taken the time to inform themselves about what is happening in their county.

Lately, however, being in a high-level public service position in Haywood County can be like having a target on your back. A small group of extremists has decided our county leadership team is corrupt and has made it a mission to paint scenarios highlighting what they call incompetence and abuse of power — whether it exists or not.

The accusations against Haywood County Finance Officer Julie Davis are a case in point.

Monday evening, one of the critics, Waynesville resident Monroe Miller, presented his “reverse engineered” research into a voluntary school funding formula county and school board leaders crafted a decade ago.

In the televised public comment portion of the board meeting, Miller alleged that Davis “cooked the books” and claimed she falsified components of the formula. Her alleged miscalculations resulted in $15 million in reduced funding for county schools, he claimed before demanding that Davis resign or be fired.

The irony to his declaration that “I cracked the code,” was that the funding formula had been suspended in 2008 following the deep recession that hit Haywood and other portions of the nation. In the quest for the minutia of the exact calculations for the formula, the question of whether the formula was even in use was overlooked.

That became the basis for highly inflammatory statements against a public servant who has earned the respect of all she has worked with. Both school and county officials have countered the accusations by talking publicly about the stellar working relationship they have with her.

In responding to the remarks, commissioners said had the schools been funded at the level dictated by the formula during the recession, it would have required a 6 to 7 cent tax hike. School leaders say they perfectly understood the economic situation in the county and understood when the school system budget was slashed just like that of other county departments.

The irony of it all is that those who complain loudly and frequently about how the county operates are dead-set against raising taxes.

While Miller’s latest claim is that the school system in Haywood County was cheated out of funds that should have been paid, his past appearances before the board would lead most to conclude he and his followers would have squawked the loudest if the board had kept the formula in place and raised taxes to the extent needed to fully fund it.

There is nothing wrong with questioning our public officials — it ensures a healthy democracy. However, publicly attacking an official without all the facts is inappropriate and crosses the line of the decency, a quality we still respect in Haywood County.