Google Goggles

Choosing the right leadership is no walk in the park, and as the Fairfield County School District proved last fall when the football team’s defensive coordinator was popped on marijuana charges, even apparently good choices can have an overlooked past that catches up to them. When that sort of thing happens, the blowback always lands in the lap of the person or people who made the selection in the first place.

County, town and city councils are almost never governed by professional politicians. These are, essentially, lay councils – your friends, neighbors and local business owners who have offered their time and service to the community in an often thankless task of guiding the community to (one would hope) prosperity. In some cases, a Strong Mayor form of government puts a single elected official in charge of the day-to-day operations of the city or town, but that comes with certain inherent risks. An individual with the personality and star power to win a general election may have little or no skill or ability to manage the daily inner workings of an entire town. Voters may then be stuck with poor management for four years, and even then may be presented with poor alternatives for moving forward.

In the small-town world of local politics, the safest and surest forms of government appear to be the Council-Administrator or Council-Manager options. The voters elect representatives, and the council members select a manager or administrator to keep the proverbial trains running on time. The success of any such community, much like the success of any business, large or small, is incumbent upon the selection of the right manager or administrator.

It may be the single most important decision any town or county council makes. And although our local councils are made up of ordinary working people, we do expect them to conduct their searches for managers and administrators thoroughly and carefully, and make their decisions with thoughtful consideration and deliberation.

The Town of Blythewood has been without permanent administrative leadership since December, when John Perry was unceremoniously shown the door. The reasons for Perry’s dismissal remain classified, but whatever arguments one can make against him, one cannot say he was a man who lacked vision for the future of Blythewood. Perhaps his vision was considered overly ambitious by some, but he had vision nonetheless. Since December, the Town’s attorney has been steering the ship, and just last month we saw that ship veer into shallow waters. Under his guidance, Council pulled the plug on a long-standing franchise agreement with the Town of Winnsboro’s water system. Only time will tell if that decision was a bit of astute political precognition or a piece of Barney Fife marksmanship. As of now, it appears that the decision was not only premature, but will cost Blythewood thousands of dollars a year and do nothing to prevent Winnsboro from continuing to peddle water in and around the area.

This week, we have learned that two of the four finalists for the permanent Town Administrator position have histories that should leave the public wondering how this search process is being conducted. Gary Parker, former Town Administrator in Sunset Beach, N.C., appears to have a problem with releasing public information. And not to the public at large, but to none other than the mayor of Sunset Beach himself. In 2012, the mayor asked Parker for a list of salaries of town employees. Parker said no.

Salaries of public employees making $50,000 a year or more are public information under S.C. state law, and while N.C. law may differ somewhat, one would imagine any and all salaries of a town would be open to that town’s highest elected official.

Transparency is paramount and essential for effective government, and a town manager reluctant to provide such transparency is not the right choice for Blythewood.

But if an aversion to transparency doesn’t really rock your boat, then perhaps a criminal background will.

Stevie Cox, Town Manager of Chadbourn, N.C. and another finalist for the Blythewood top spot, was arrested in 2011 for impersonating a police officer. Later that same year, Cox was tapped for running a stop sign, driving with a revoked license plate and driving without car insurance.

That paragraph speaks for itself. The public does not need The Voice newspaper to extrapolate from that how Mr. Cox may not be a wise choice for the Town of Blythewood. The question that does remain, however, is how these two individuals comprise 50 percent of Blythewood’s list of finalists. The other 50 percent, meanwhile, bring a total of zero years’ experience in town management.

The Town of Blythewood may be on the cusp of some very great things, but that future must be planned and properly prepared for. It is up to our elected representatives to make an educated and informed choice in selecting the right leadership to guide Blythewood into that future.

If a simple Google search can pull up these kinds of demons, what lurks beyond in those places that only professional investigators may venture?

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