By Kathi Bliss
I don’t remember if it was my parents or my grandmother, or a life coach I met somewhere along the way, or possibly just a very wise friend, but I remember being told, somewhere down the line, that one of the most important qualities in an effective leader is knowing when to compromise – and knowing when not to.
If that statement holds true, it might be the key factor in why leadership in Caldwell County seems to have broken down so badly. More and more lately, it seems that County Judge Tom Bonn is not only unwilling to compromise, he appears unwilling to even discuss it.
In fact, this week, Bonn has shown a flagrant disregard for the opinions and the wishes of his court, belying his own statement not three weeks ago that he is “only one vote on the Court.”
This disregard comes in the form of a legal notice published in this week’s Post-Register (see Page 2B), proposing the maximum salary increases to be made available this budget year to Caldwell County’s elected officials. The proposal, which had been brought before the Court for discussion and tabled last month, was brought forth again on Monday morning, but was set for discussion only, with no chance for the Court to make a vote.
I will let the legal minds speculate as to whether that move itself was a violation of State statute. While that possibility does concern me, it is for someone with more knowledge of law than myself to decide.
What does concern me, however, is the fact that a majority of the court – three of the five members – said they were not satisfied with the proposal, which undercuts previously discussed pay increases for three of our elected officials: the County Clerk, the County Treasurer and the District Clerk.
Notably, these are the three elected officials who last year, when the Court introduced their “five year plan” to bring parity to the county’s salaries, grieved against their proposed salaries and were granted additional increases.
Those increases, Bonn said, were an “advance” on the five-year plan. He proposed the three salaries be given smaller increases this year to offset those grievances. He calls it fair.
The elected officials affected call it “punishment.”
Three Commissioners, at the very least, call it “questionable,” and asked Bonn to consider revising the notice to allow for the possibility of additional increases for those three employees. He refused.
Which leads me back to the question of compromise. The Commissioners weren’t saying that they insisted that the increases be given. They simply wanted the opportunity to discuss it. However, the publication of the notice sets the ceiling for any possible increases, effectively ending the conversation before it could even begin. And that seems strange to me.
After all, Bonn is only one vote on the panel, by his own admission. Or, apparently, he’s only one vote when it suits his purposes, and is the only vote that matters otherwise.
And as a voting taxpayer in this county, I think that’s disgraceful.
You were only “one vote” when talking last month about one employee’s livelihood, Judge Bonn. Why, then, are you the ONLY vote now, when talking about three others?
In his explanation, Judge Bonn said, in effect, that this discussion is about “his budget.”
I’m inclined to disagree. This is about OUR budget, the COUNTY’S budget. And there are four other men sitting at that table who have been entrusted to represent the people of this county. Whether or not the five will ever agree on anything is not my concern. However, they ALL have the right to be heard.
If Bonn wanted to defend his position on how to allocate the salary increases, he should have done so, but then allowed the Court to vote. Instead, he robbed the Court of any choice at all in the matter, and said for all intents and purposes, “this is the way it’s going to be. And that’s final.”
Because by publishing that notice, he tied the Court’s hands. And he made that decision all by his lonesome. That doesn’t much sound like “only one vote” to me.
And it bears no resemblance in the world to compromise, or leadership.
It feels a whole lot like dictatorship. And it’s a shame to watch someone who spent so much of his life in defense of freedom and democracy, become a dictator.
Others have accused him of setting up a fiefdom for quite some time, but me, I’ve been more tolerant, more compassionate and more willing to believe that while he does have a PR problem and sometimes doesn’t communicate effectively, he honestly is trying.
Monday morning made me change my mind.
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