Lack of concern is the worst ethical problemToday's editorial in the Knoxville News-Sentinel reflects a widely-held and agreeable popular viewpoint that County Commissioners and other countywide elected officials should not be an employee of the county in an occupational capacity. I agree with the assertion and it makes common sense, but there is a much deeper reason why local elected officials should not work for the unit of government that they are elected to other than in the elected capacity itself.
Something you don't see every day is me in agreement with the Knoxville News-Sentinel editorial board, so this is a banner event-and it was this statement that hit on the larger question:
While state law does not prohibit county commissioners from working for the county government, legislation introduced last session sought to end or at least curb the practice. It certainly raised questions about how widespread the practice is in the state. What is legal is not necessarily ethical.
No indeed-and this is a distinction that seems to be a difficult one not only for Knox County officials, but for local elected officials all over this State and in many parts of the country at-large.
The much larger problem, one that the News-Sentinel seems to address only in passing, is the problem of public apathy toward local government. This is an issue that affects not only East Tennessee, but also much of the country. People tend to be far less informed about what is happening at the local level, and I would venture to say that most people don't know who their Aldermen/City Councilmen/City Commissioners or County Commissioners are, let alone why these individuals should or should not be allowed to remain in office.
Many local pundits have predicted that because of the disgraceful events of January 31, in which many of the Knox County Commissioners were chosen for the people of Knox County instead of by them and-far worse-were chosen without allowing for public input, it would create not only the outpouring of public anger that it did but increased interest in the coming 2008 Primany and General Election at the local level.
While voter turnout is likely to increase somewhat, that may be due to the fact that the Primary is also a Presidential one, and the General Election is one in which we will also elect the next President. Whether this actually translates into increased interest and concern about local political affairs remains to be seen. I wish that I could say that I believe that is the case, but I am very skeptical. The true test will be not how many vote in a Special Election held alongside the one for President, but whether the number of voters in 2010 (the regular year for most local elections in Tennessee) dramatically increases over the number of voters in 2006.