Folks in this area have long been familiar with, and contemptuous of, politicians abstaining from voting.
The Augusta City Commission largely is to blame. Its convoluted, racially engineered form of government allows abstentions to grind progress to a halt.
Augusta has 10 commissioners and a mayor. The mayor can vote only if there is a tie. But no item can pass with a simply majority; it must have a minimum of six votes. If it looks like there's going to be a tie that the mayor's vote could break, one commissioner on the losing end can abstain from voting.
That prevents a tie, which prevents the mayor from voting. Without six votes, the measure fails, so the side with the fewest votes wins. That's un-democratic to the point of being downright un-American. Because of such cynical use of abstentions, the term has become a dirty word.
Abstentions do, however, have their place - specifically when an elected official has a conflict of interest.
Conflicts are bound to happen, especially in local government. Elected officials have families and they usually have jobs; that means there occasionally will be situations in which officials have a personal stake in an item up for vote. When that happens, the official should abstain.
Columbia County School Board trustee Wayne Bridges did it the wrong way a couple of years ago when he failed to abstain from a vote involving a company with whom he had worked. Bridges later admitted he shouldn't have voted.
County Commissioner Charles Allen did it the right way a few weeks ago when he abstained from voting on the Marshall Square revisions because he's a relative of the Marshall family.
But Allen did it the wrong way Tuesday. Fortunately it was in what turned out to be a premature and, thus, meaningless motion, so he'll have time to act differently the next time it comes up.
Allen made the motion Tuesday to approve the draft of an agreement between the county and the Columbia County Merchants Association. The proposal involves land at the fairgrounds where the county plans to build and manage an arena.
Because of a few details that still need ironing out, a substitute motion to delay approval prevailed with a unanimous vote, Allen included.
Allen should have abstained because he is a long-standing member of the Merchants Association.
The public-private arena concept is a good one, and the Merchants are an outstanding organization. I have no doubt the two sides will work out a mutually beneficial agreement that commissioners will vote to approve.
But to avoid any appearance of conflict, Allen should not be one of those votes.
Credit where due
News Editor Donnie Fetter noticed an unintentionally funny trend in school officials' comments regarding test scores, spelled out again this past week after CRCT results were released.
If the scores go up? The teachers did a great job. The scores go down? It's the students' fault.
To be fair, there should be a lot less year-to-year comparison of test scores, period. The third-graders who took this year's test are not the same third-graders who took the test last year.
And the teachers do, in fact, deserve a lot of credit - especially when there are curriculum changes, as there were in math last year.
But students (and their parents) deserve credit when scores go up, and teachers have to share any blame when they don't. Let's just not be too obsessive about it either way, OK?
I got the new title wrong the other day for Jason Smith, who is leaving at the end of this month as publisher of The McDuffie Mirror.
He'll be vice president for communication for Joseph M. Still Burn Centers Inc., which operates four burn centers in the region including the one at Doctors Hospital.
And good news: The rumors I mentioned of Electrolux moving its Martinez headquarters to Charlotte, N.C., are not true. The bad news: Husqvarna, which has a smaller presence in the facility, apparently is leaving.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106.)
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