June 2018 Editorial Winner

Voters make displeasure known
Todd Brooks, Marlow Review

Stephens County Commissioners may have taken off the public comment portion of their agenda, but the public spoke loud and clear to the commission at the ballot box Tuesday.
That message seemed to be, do better.
Not only was current District 1 Commissioner David McCarley defeated in the primary but so was the renewal of the fairgrounds tax.
The final tally on the proposition was 5,945 votes against the tax to 4,504 for the tax.
It does not mean voting is done. Commissioners intentionally got the measure on this ballot for two reasons. The first was so the county did not have to pay for a special election. It cost the county nothing to put it with the state primaries. The second reason was in case it was defeated, commissioners would have enough time to put it up for a vote again before the tax rolls off the books.
It would be hard to say the reason for the downfall was just a general anti-tax wave by voters. The fact the fire department/senior nutrition center sales tax passed so easily would dispute that.
Problems started to come to a head two years ago when commissioners passed a measure to allow beer sales at the fairgrounds. The purpose, commissioners said, was not to get in the beer sales business, but to have a procedure in place where the county could get liability insurance and empower enforcement by the sheriff’s department.
Not everyone saw it that way, but thought the commissioners were supporting drinking at the fairgrounds. It led to high emotions in commissioner meetings. The measure passed 2-1 with McCarley being one of the “yes” votes. Less than a couple of weeks later, Lonnie Estes, the other “yes” vote, lost his seat to Todd Churchman in the GOP primary.
That would not be the last time the fairgrounds made headlines for not-so-good reasons.
Last year, McCarley called for an audit of the fairgrounds.
When the report eventually came back, problems were found with finances like unapproved negotiations by the commissioners for lower rates on rentals in order to bring in business as well as several other things.
The controversy led to commissioners firing popular executive director Mike Anderson, which also did not seem to sit well with many in the community judging by the number of social media comments.
There have been a handful of contentious scenes over the past couple of years between commissioners about various things.
This vote was a reminder to commissioners that voters are the ones ultimately in charge. If they are dissatisfied with how things are going, they will take out whoever is up for re-election regardless of that particular commissioner’s policies or accomplishments.
This time around, they were given the opportunity to make a statement by hitting the commissioners in the wallet, which they promptly did.
The commissioners are going to have to become great salesmen if they choose to put the tax on the ballot again. A 1,400-vote shortfall is a lot to make up.
Now, Kreg Murphree, Dennis Sweat or Butch Graham will be tasked to help re-install the public trust in the commissioners’ office when the winner takes a seat at the table in January.

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