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Patti Best

an Artist living in Canton, NC

Patti H. Best 

6/7/13 ACT

Public officials should serve, not berate

Guest columnist Haywood County politicians have apparently borrowed a page from the big guys in D.C. All have apparently forgotten they are employees of the citizens who vote them into office and pay their wages. I am appalled that our leaders here in Haywood County are using their positions to intimidate and humiliate. Allow me to explain: Recently, county politicians decided to ask state Sen. Jim Davis to introduce a bill increasing the occupancy tax on rental cabins, hotels, etc. Constituent concerns were voiced to Sen. Davis, informing him that not all citizens were happy with the proposed tax, as this tax will begin new projects that eventually may require taxpayer help to sustain. A letter was written to Sen. Davis that I feel denigrated the people who were in opposition to the tax. This letter was signed by the town mayors of Haywood County and Board of Commissioners Chairman Mark Swanger.

At the commissioners’ meeting following these events, one of the citizens against the tax read the letter in its entirety. This action assured the letter would be introduced into the minutes, thereby making it available to the people of the county. She then stated that she was offended by the letter. After she had finished speaking, one commissioner stood and told this woman what he “was offended by.” He spoke of her (alleged) tax delinquencies, including the amount he says she owes the different agencies. I have questions: Has a new law passed that I am unaware of? Are tax standards to be met before one can speak out politically? Should we disallow spoken opinions from those who receive government assistance checks, Social Security checks, unemployment checks? Some people pay no taxes at all because of low wages and/or high deductions. Who determines if someone meets the criteria allowing their voice to be heard? If we need to speak in opposition to our commissioners, do we need to fear personal retribution and or humiliation?

My respect for our local officials could not be lower. Never should public officials use their position to humiliate anyone. I would ask our Haywood County Commissioners to publicly apologize to this citizen and all the citizens of Haywood County for this most unacceptable behavior.

One final point to consider: County finances are public. Personal finances are private, (or should be). If this behavior goes unchecked, could intimidation become a tool used to silence voices of opposition? I urge every citizen of this (free?) society to reprimand our county commissioners. Never again should anyone be treated in such an egregious manner — never again. 

Patti H. Best is an artist who lives in Canton.