Get a Grip, Mr. Mayor

Your administration is crumbling pell mell, and only you can rescue it

Editorial

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale's administration is foundering on wave after wave of scandal, and his reactions are defensive and show a lack of grasp on the big picture.

When he's shown that his former finance director was taking advantage of his position by charging questionable expenses to the county and bumbling around, contradicting himself and misleading the media and the public, Ragsdale's response is to call for his resignation, but to point to the county's reaping $13 million in bond refinancing savings under Werner's â“leadership.â”

Given that Werner was a personal friend, the mayor fails to point out his shortcomings when they are obvious and damaging. Ragsdale doesn't acknowledge that the job was over Werner's head and that the indebtedness triumph, important as it was, was handed to Werner as a done package by Cumberland Securities, the county's contracted bond counsel.

Now he's accused of participating in a carnival of racial discrimination against his former executive assistant, Margie Loyd, whom he asked to resign, again over county credit-card excesses. Loyd alleges in a formal complaint that he told her the Commission Chairman Scott â“Scoobieâ” Moore and unspecified â“other commissionersâ” didn't like African Americans and were targeting her for dismissal in the Commission's own auditor's probe of the administration's expenditures.

Moore denies he ever held or stated such views, and it's not possible yet to tell where this latest debacle involving racism charges may lead. Another of Ragsdale's appointees, Senior Director of Community Services Cynthia Finch, is under fire for her relationships with non-profits and their county financial support. Finch is also African American.

Loyd also says in her complaint that the mayor offered her medical leave when she had no medical cause, which would constitute a dire breach of employment ethics.

The issues of administrative lapses and outright abuses show no sign of tapering off, especially considering the adversarial relationship between the mayor and his minions and the County Commission majority led by Moore and Greg â“Lumpyâ” Lambert.

Stung by assertions of their own ethical missteps and violations of the state's Open Meetings â“Sunshineâ” Law, some of which they seem to openly admit, the Commission has been unloading on the administration, both as a diversionary and retributive tactic.

It is working, because when two such entities get into a tussle involving the slinging of excrement, there are enough skeletons rattling around in their closets to bring about a round of exposure that borders on the indecent. The laissez-faire culture that has grown in and around county government over the years, with officials winking at one another's questionable acts, is not something that Ragsdale or the commissioners can wave away, especially while they continue to fan the flames with accusatory rhetoric.

It is a good thing that some of these practices are out in the open. But it doesn't help when Ragsdale keeps trying to squelch those revelations that indict his administration's officials.

When he says that a 99-percent good-government culture is being blighted by the one percent who've done wrong, he completely misses the mark.

Ragsdale is no dummy. He's smart enough to grab the wheel and right his ship if he wants to. But it will take energy away from his long-held ambition to run for governor. At some point, he must see that his gubernatorial quest is already derailed and that what he can do for himself, as well as for the public, is to knuckle down to the task of weeding out administrative abuses and seeing to it that noneâ"large or pettyâ"occur again on his watch.

That's a far better choice for him to make than resignation, which is an option being bandied about the political-junkie community. Such a move would put the mayor's office in the hands of the majority on Commission who would appoint a successor.

Does anyone with a shred of conscience or community consciousness want to see that come to pass? We don't think so, but we've been wrong about the county citizens and their motives in the past.

If Ragsdale quits, it would probably be a gesture on his part to show the segment of the county electorate that has turned on him that a Commission-led government would serve them right.

Unfortunately, the innocents who are waiting around for the 2008 Commission elections to put responsible, thinking people in those seats, would be in the way when the deluge roared over them.

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