In the hit movie “Airplane” there is a running gag that has one of the characters saying time and again, when confronted with one crisis after another, that he had picked a bad time to quit smoking.
Similarly, members of the Forsyth County Commission have picked a bad time to allow petty feuding and personal bickering to dictate governmental policy.
The county, along with most other governments in the nation, is in a financial bind. Given cash reserves, an economy that has been general strong for most of two decades and the overall affluence of the community, we aren’t in the sort of crisis some governments face, but tough economic decisions have to be made nonetheless.
Decisions about when, where and how to cut county spending, about which services are priorities, about the need to freeze hiring or eliminate jobs.
Much has been written and said in recent weeks about the county’s looming budget deficit, and many economic forecasters seem to think tougher times may be ahead.
So now is a time for leadership.
Instead, when asked a budget question last week, commission chairman Charles Laughinghouse cavalierly quipped, “You’ll have to talk to the present new majority to see what they’re going to do. They’re in charge.”
Laughinghouse was making reference to the 3-2 split on the county commission that emerged in the firing of the former county manager. Having already made comments about what might happen in January, when he expects a 3-2 split in the other direction, the chairman seems to have given up on leading the commission until then.
That’s not the approach to take.
A division among the commission on individual issues does not mean there cannot be compromise and intelligent debate. The five people currently representing the county’s residents have a job to do until their terms expire, and putting its financial house in order has to be the top priority.
What isn’t clear to this point is the exact status of the county’s financial plight. Confusion over the allocation of reserves to help reduce the deficit has already cost the county manager her job, but there still seems to be uncertainty as to the full extent of the problem, and the potential resolutions that offer palatable options.
As long as there is an “us vs. them” mentality on the board, and an assumption that the “us” and “them” parts of the equations will change in January, then the likelihood of enlightened leadership seems slim.