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Our Opinion: Local leaders suffer speculation, turnover

Posted: February 12, 2017 - 2:21am

The past two weeks have brought a lot of changes to Columbia County's leadership. And let's face it, jaws all over the county have been dropping like Lady Gaga's microphone at halftime of the Super Bowl.

Let's start with the controversial resignation of EMA Director Pam Tucker. She stepped down weeks after the exit of her right-hand man, and longtime deputy director, Rusty Welsh.

Both are playing the proverbial blame game for their departures - Welsh blamed Tucker and Tucker blamed county administrator Scott Johnson.

With the leadership vacuum going on inside the EMA department, we felt it only fitting to extend a high-five to the department's EMA deputy director, Andy Leanza, a relatively new hire, who as of Wednesday, was also named the county's interim EMA director - emphasis on interim.

Now, back to the jaw droppers.

Another public leader thrust into the spotlight is board of education member Mike Sleeper. And while Sleeper isn't going anywhere, his past has certainly made an aggressive resurgence.

Sleeper's military service as an Army Ranger was the subject of speculation in a Jan. 27 blog post on a website named This Ain't Hell. The site, known for being a watchdog group dedicated to exposing stolen valor fraud, depicts one page of Sleeper's military records showing he was discharged as a private, and lacking any mention of a Ranger battalion Sleeper has claimed to have served with.

The thrice-elected education board member, has silently flown under the radar for the past two weeks, eclipsed by the release of Tucker's and Welsh's scathing resignation letters.

The blog post's writer, David Hardin, told the News-Times that the group received a complaint about Sleeper, so they looked into it and posted their findings.

Hardin explained to the News-Times - very respectfully and intelligently - about the problem with embellishing one's service. Sleeper is not breaking any laws at this point, but the issue is morally yucky.

We are hoping to retrieve records of our own to either prove or disprove this information, but for now all we can do is wait and continue to ask Sleeper to help us set the record straight.

Hardin also stated that he spoke with Sleeper after the post was published and offered Sleeper help to correct any missing information.

Short of a two-sentence reply in response to the News-Times' request for comment on the claims, Sleeper has offered no insight on the issue and has remained silent.

Sleeper replied in the email that he did attend the U.S. Army Airborne School, Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP), and did serve with the 1st/75th Ranger Regiment. He also added he will provide the proper documentation once it is available. If he is requesting his discharge papers from the military, we could be waiting a while.

A follow-up request for a formal interview also was left unanswered.

Sleeper is no stranger to the public spotlight. He is well-known for being actively involved in this community, and there is no denying that he is dedicated to serving others.

But as an elected, public official, we feel he owes it to his constituency, which is comprised of a large number of enlisted family and personnel, to set the record straight.

Shut this group down, or own up to any misunderstandings.

We are hoping for some insight at the next board of education meeting Tuesday.

 

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