Elected officials should never be surprised or irritated when citizens question their judgment, their words or their decisions.
It is their government.
They have every right to question everything government does, whether elected officials like it or not.
Government belongs to the governed, not to the governing.
Ours is a representative form of government.
In fact, it is this distinctive nature of our constitutional republic that distinguishes us as a nation and provides for a more open and free society.
Frankly, when officials react as if they are above being questioned, then they have simply gotten too big for their britches.
When members of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners summarily dismiss the concerns of citizens, roll their eyes and effectively thumb their noses at the people they are elected to serve, they have become a disservice to the public and an enemy of the very principles of a representative form of government.
It is absolutely impossible to please all the people all the time.
That is true, of course, because all people do not always agree on all things.
That is why we elect representatives.
However, to totally disregard the electorate, even if those speaking are outspoken, is poor governing.
Furthermore, to lash out at the media for covering the concerns of citizens is a telltale sign that those elected officials somehow believe they are above public censure, beyond being questioned and believe they do not have to answer to anyone.
Any newspaper that represents the interests of the governing, more than the interests of the governed, is not worth the paper it is printed on or the ink that fills its pages.
We may not always agree with outspoken citizens or defend what they say, but we will defend with all our might, all our ink and all our paper their right to say it — even in open public meetings.
Irish statesman and author Edmund Burke (1729-1797), according to historian Thomas Carlyle, said there were “three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all” (Heroes and Hero Worship in History, 1841).
Though in many places reporters may have reduced themselves to simply being a mouthpiece for local government reporting what officials want them to report and hiding what they don’t, a community and a democracy is best served when the newspaper provides a forum for checks and balances as the fourth Estate of government.
It is time for all Clayton County officials to realize that the seats of local government are not their kingdom and the citizens of Clayton County are not their subjects.
In fact, they are working for and being paid by the very citizens they seem to regard as “foolish.”
When BOC Vice-Chairman Wole Ralph dismissed citizen concerns over local government spending as “foolishness,” it demonstrated a lack of leadership and a failure to comprehend the most basic concepts of a representative form of government.
The money the county commission is spending is not its money.
It is the public’s money and citizens have every right to know how their money is being spent.
In fact, they have every right to have a say in how their money is being spent.
There is obviously a reason why voters have now rejected Wole and he is on his way out.
Then, even more telling is an e-mail sent from District 1 Commissioner Sonna Singleton from her county government e-mail account to a news reporter.
Singleton wrote, “You have obviously fallen into a trap set by a group of disgruntled citizens who are mad because they cannot afford to move out of the county.”
Since Singleton sent this from her government account, is she speaking for the Clayton County government?
Is this what the county officially thinks of its citizens?
Commissioners and county officials who do not agree with Singleton should most likely reprimand, if not publicly censure, her for using county e-mail to attack the very citizens that elected officials are elected to represent.
These are her fellow citizens and their views matter, whether she agrees with them or not and whether she personally likes them or not.
It is just as much their county as it is her county.
This is key to understanding what public services is all about.
Those who are elected to office are not merely elected to represent the people who agree with them. They are elected to represent the interests of the entire county and that cannot be done if they do not at least listen to and respect everyone, those with whom they agree and those with whom they disagree.
We take our role as the Fourth Estate seriously and will continue to report and comment in ways that hold government in check.
We commend citizens for questioning their government.
Burke also said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
— Editor Jim Zachary