Tear up that check, Commissioner Owens

Jul. 13, 2013 @ 04:20 AM

We talked about property ownership a long time ago at Davis Doughnuts. Do you remember that?

I asked if you would do anything about Rutherford County’s abandoned mills if you won the election for County Commissioner.

Your response was, at the time, unexpectedly passionate. You informed me those properties belonged to people. And then you asked me how I would like it if the government told me what to do with my private property.

I started to respond that some of those mills had been sitting vacant for 10 or more years and….

You shook your head vigorously. It’s not the government’s place to intervene, you told me.

Other than that brief moment of tension, our conversation was congenial. Even pleasant. When you spotted my little boy watching us, his mouth crammed full of chocolate doughnut, you stooped down to his eye level and asked, how are you today, young man?

The only other time I saw you in person during the 2010 election year was at the public forum for candidates hosted by the Community Pet Center. You sat ram-rod straight in your chair facing the audience. If memory serves, you wore a military uniform.

That evening’s topic was the proposed Daniel Road complex, which, among other infrastructure, would include a new animal shelter. It was clear you were against the project. It was also clear this position was going to help make you one of the winners in the 2010 elections.

Sure enough, you easily won your seat. As did scores of other candidates who ran “outsider” campaigns that decried government spending gone wild.

Well, here we are, three years later. And now we learn the government’s going to pay you almost three times what your property is worth – at least, according to our county tax appraiser – so the Airport Authority can lop off the top of a tree near the airport runway.

Commissioner Owens, before you cash or spend too much of that $300,000 check, will you consider some very possible consequences?

The first, of course, is a nagging unease that could dog you for the rest of your life.

Granted, I could just be projecting the discomfort I would feel in your place if I was swept into office on a wave of anti-government spending sentiment. Maybe you don’t have that many qualms about the deal at all.

But like thousands of other Rutherford County citizens, I saw the interview of you on the news. To put it mildly, you did not look very comfortable fielding the reporter’s questions.

An additional consideration is the government official who really does abhor government waste. They do exist. What’s going to happen when one of them gets wind of this deal?

If you don’t think citizens aren’t writing furious letters about this spectacular price tag for a tree to every federal and state agency they can think of, not to mention the “That’s Outrageous!” department at Reader’s Digest, you’re not in contact with a truly representative sample of your constituents.

What I’m getting at is you might end up having to pay that $300,000 back. Or spend it in the courts.

Everyone on the Airport Authority board should give thought to this, as well. Because it looks terrible that not one member ever came forward to let the public know that you were supposedly holding the board hostage over a tree.

And of course, it looks awful that the government would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grant money just to continue the privilege of giving the airport more federal grant money.

Yet that’s essentially the explanation the Airport Authority is giving to the public – and for all I know, it’s true. It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of reality. Nothing much is, these days.

But someone in government with the power to correct such an absurdity may well decide to make it their mission in life to do so. At which point, we’ll have to pay for your deal all over again.

Unless you decide to spare us by ripping that check clean in half. May I recommend at the next County Commission meeting?

A dramatic gesture, yes.

But that’s about what it’s going to take if you want Rutherford County to forgive you for taking the check in the first place.