editorial (2007-50)

OK, They Arenâ't All Rascals

Editorial

But county government shows its dire need for a pretty exhaustive housecleaning.

To refer to a Knox County Commission session, filled with accusations and counter-accusations, as a fiasco is probably redundant, but thatâ’s what transpired at Commissionâ’s Finance and Intergovernmental Relations Committee meeting this week.

Most, but not all, of the charges leveled in the overheated farce were directed at County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, whose loyalists got in a couple of shots of their own against both the howling commissioners and former Sheriff Tim Hutchison, whose contentious figure lurks behind the scenes even though he is no longer in office.

The bulk of the three hours of bantering was taken up with discussion of the role of Tyler Harber, a political operative who was paid to work in the countyâ’s Probation and Pretrial Release office while performing questionable, if not illegal, political tricks that got him canned last year. Harberâ’s been accused of stealing emails for the mayor and trying to obtain confidential county Health Department records to use against political figures who were in the Ragsdale administrationâ’s disfavor.

Ragsdale has denied the allegations against him, but Harber hasnâ’t. In an outrageously ironic exchange Monday with a News Sentinel reporter, Harber reportedly said heâ’d testify to his deeds on behalf of the mayor, that he had â“nothing to hide,â” but that he would still require a grant of immunity from prosecution in the matter.

Now a Washington, D.C., public-opinion researcher, Harber also speculated that the Commissionâ’s probe into his activities was a politically motivated witch hunt instead of a public-spirited investigation intended to unearth a pattern of illegal acts paid for with taxpayer money.

Harber the hackâ’s witch-hunt guess is undoubtedly true, an outgrowth of the factionalism that has effectively neutered the Commission and led to public vilification of commissioners in general. He deftly dodges responsibility for his own oily role in advancing that factionalism. Thatâ’s not to hold Ragsdale harmless by any means. Heâ’s displayed an unhealthy number of lapses in judgment that have cost the county money and cost him respect and will hound him throughout his second term in office. Not the least of those lapses was involving himself and his political friends in any way with the deceptive Harber, who now wishes to come clean if he can avoid prosecution for anything he may have done outside the law. Right.

Ragsdale, whose own deceptions include compensating his cabinet-level employees with tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses disguised as travel allowances, is in a position where an audit of administration expenditures could, if conducted independently and without a grindstone for political axes, land him in hot water that would not likely cool and would probably end his political career.

All of this petty maneuvering in full public view at Commission meetings has required other important issues to be put off. The Finance and Intergovernmental Committee members, for instance, used up all of their Tuesday time in pursuit of Harber connections, while no discussion took place on the Commissionâ’s proposed â“open governmentâ” resolution, its compromise stormwater ordinance, or proposals for perfecting county audits, leaving those issues for the full Commission to take up next week without committee input.

We used to worry over the fact that contention between the county and the city of Knoxville crushed our government ideals and left out of the equation any consideration of the overall public good. Now it is infighting within the county government itself that has quashed all notions of public interest in favor of political machinations that serve no useful public purpose and have left the county electorate exasperated and jonesing for a fresh election to throw the rascals out. Count us at Metro Pulse on the side of those disgruntled and anxious voters.

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