What Service Looks Like



I was awake as the storm moved through our area late Sunday night and early Monday morning. As our electricity went off, I continued to listen to a scanner to hear communications between our emergency services.

As the storm raged, volunteers and county emergency officials were out monitoring their communities. As the severe storm passed on and the winds began to calm, the scanner traffic became hectic as workers everywhere were reporting downed electric lines and trees over roadways.

They weren’t just reporting the problems, though. They were busy cutting up trees in the dark of the night, making sure travelers didn’t drive into danger, and providing any other service that was needed. Local residents came out, too, cutting up trees so their neighbors could make it home from work or get out of their driveway. Many worked throughout the night and into the morning hours.

This is what service looks like. This is what it looks like when someone cares about their community.

As I sat through Tuesday night’s fiscal court meeting, I didn’t see the swarm that came to help out their community; I saw the raging storm. County Judge Executive Larry Russell Bryant says he is trying to help the people of this county, but his harsh words and quick temper keep him from achieving good.

While the magistrates are not perfect, they appear to be trying to maintain some semblance of decency as Bryant rants and ridicules. Some of them lose their tempers, but they have yet to stoop so low as to belittle a member of the community the way Bryant did Tuesday night. A woman in the audience was kind; she did not provoke the wrath that was directed at her. Instead, she asked to speak and the judge gave her the floor only to verbally attack her.

I know the judge and the magistrates do not agree on a major issue. Bryant wants a 1 percent occupational tax and magistrates do not. I have been told magistrates were ready to fully support a .5 tax Tuesday night, but a vote never happened. Instead, magistrate Daryl Flatt said magistrates only received copies of two proposals at 3 p.m. that day. The proposals were not in their original packet they receive prior to the meetings.

Bryant obviously thought magistrates could vote for a first reading anyway. They could change stuff later, he said.  Surely, we do not elect people so they can pass an ordinance that will take money out of the paychecks of everyone who works in the county without expecting them to know what the ordinance says.
Where was the emergency that they had to vote on an ordinance before they are given time to read it? I got a copy of the documents just before the meeting started. I tried to read the two ordinances as the meeting was being conducted, prior to the topic coming up on the agenda.

It’s not Dr. Seuss.

As best as I could tell, one of the two documents contained a net profit tax in addition to the occupational tax. That means that all business entities would pay a tax on their net income and employees would pay on their paychecks. Both documents were entitled occupational tax and net profit tax. There was also a comment made during the meeting that there were some exceptions in one proposal that were not in the other. I’m still not sure what those are The court has never had a conversation about a net profit tax, yet there it was in the proposal. It wasn’t in the one Bryant said he recommended, which Bryant said mirrors the city of Columbia’s tax.

I can promise you one thing, if I were an elected official, I would not vote for any of it without time to read and question the documents. Anyone willing to do so does not care about my paycheck or yours.

While the discussion on the occupational tax started the contentious moments of the meeting, there was absolutely no reason for the meeting to become derailed as it was. Bryant ranted and rambled for long periods, even criticizing the mayor over a letter and accusing somebody of stealing money at the utility district. To say this was unprofessional and unrelated would be an understatement.

A little verbal sparring with magistrates is okay – and I mean a little and I mean sparring – intensely disagreeing is different that ranting and verbally attacking.

Even worse, however, was Bryant’s comments about people in the community in general and specifically to a member of this community who did nothing but show him respect. He owes her an apology, but that won’t undo the damage that was done in the minds of local residents who were ridiculed by the very man they elected to the county’s top executive office.

While people may have a good laugh by watching videos of fiscal court meetings on the Community Voice Facebook page, I assure you none of this is a laughing matter. The humor ended months ago.

We are getting nowhere. We have become an embarrassment. I was literally sick to my stomach as I left Tuesday night’s court meeting. How did we become this community?
We want to bring jobs to the county? Apparently, the judge thinks that is the number one thing. I wonder if those potential job providers like what they see here today?

Tax dollars will pay the county’s bills, but they won’t move this county forward. That happens when you have resources AND good leadership. Good leadership takes boldness, but it also takes the ability to get people to follow the vision. That won’t happen here any time soon.

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