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If voters pick fools, don't be surprised by foolishness

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By Holly Audette
Columnist

Monday, July 17, 2017

I’ve been watching Elizabeth City’s governance for 17 years. To say the dysfunction of City Council has contributed negatively to the degree of our progress is an understatement.

Last week’s council meeting was a disgrace beyond what has become routine. The resignation and exasperation of some members with others was palpable. You can see the energy depleted from members who have had enough and are ready to simply move on from this circus-like atmosphere.

Despite all the incessant complaining about collusion against them, some members have been very coordinated themselves. They routinely single out colleagues with personal insults like their sarcastic jabs at Councilman Tony Stimatz for “knowing everything.” In the discussion of an issue they will chime in with gratuitous comments like, “Tony is an expert on everything,” “If you want to know, Tony will be glad to tell you,” etc. Personal attacks like telling Councilman Ray Donnelly it is time for him to resign and making false claims Mayor Joe Peel financially benefited from a new public school, insisting on an investigation, wasting tax dollars on a personal vendetta.

A new theme questions the under-utilization of the city’s information technology employee, including inappropriate questioning directly of the staff member despite the requirement that the city manager is the person to whom council members are supposed to direct such questions. This is unfair to a staff member who works under the city manager and should not be put in the middle of governing disputes by members of council.

The attempt to demonstrate at the least the incompetence of the manager and at the worst, an implied racism for not including staff in particular city work, these members make themselves fools arguing a person who handles computer issues should be doing an audit of utility accounts. They claim a reputable national outside firm expert in utilities is too closely connected with the city but their hand-picked acceptable city employee would be fine! Brilliant. An IT person is not an accountant. An IT person who assists a doctor’s office with the use of their computers and software does not not know medicine. They do not take the medical data a computer and software generates, analyze and interpret it and diagnose medical issues. The city IT employee may handle the water department’s computers and software but does that make him capable of actually analyzing water quality data? It seems clear they are trying to make another point or they are simply ignorant in this evaluation.

It’s bad enough we have to deal with the absolutely incoherent babble that goes on and on, and that has so many residents scratching their heads wondering what the heck was the point of the last 20 minutes of one-sided dialogue. Add to it all the insinuations about Elizabeth City’s governing, the “if you only knew what I know” comments with the implication that so much is so very bad, these council members offer nothing to a positive image or reality for the community. Like so many with hyper-exaggerated accusations, there is lots of talk and little evidence.

These members of council have contributed little to the progress of this community but have instead contributed division, a perception of ignorance, ego, self-importance, victimhood, stereotypes and their own embellished savior complex. They are way more interested in lengthy, repetitive soap-box speeches to pander to a few whose methods mirror theirs than they are making any progress for the whole. Plans and ideas are continuously scrutinized from this one against that one perspectives and the end result is chaos. The best they offer is to argue against retirees locating here with their discretionary income and instead demanding more from a withering pot of resources without concern about contributions to the pot. Surely that is a better plan.

Chaos is exactly what so many on the receiving end of this council perceive. And now is another season for people to decide who wants to be part of the chaos. So far, it looks like very few do. For all the folks who every single day, all day long complain about their victim status, the corruption, the “good ol boy” system, the incompetence, throw the bums out, I can do this better, the incumbents don’t care, this place sucks, I hate it here — you would think there would be throngs of folks chomping at the bit to be involved to demonstrate how much better their results would be. I bet I can predict who they will champion instead.

Northeastern North Carolina is seen regionally. We aren’t the big guys anymore. We are losing credibility and thus opportunity. We are being left behind while counties around us are thriving. When the looking glass is used, we look like romper room. We will not be picked, invited, funded, joined. Keep choosing fools, the band will march right by and we will remain utterly foolish.

Holly Audette is a small-business owner active in political and civic causes.

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