Just tell the truth. That’s what we teach our children, it’s what we need from our loved ones, and it’s what we have to have from friends and co-workers. Without it, life’s a house of cards that won’t stand up.
During election season, though, truth gets twisted like a pretzel. What started as a fact becomes someone’s favorite sound bite, but the flavor has changed completely.
This is happening mightily right now in Jackson County. There are some folks who are working feverishly to oust incumbent county commissioners Brian McMahon, Tom Massie and William Shelton.
Anytime someone has been in office, opponents can certainly look at their record and come up with legitimate arguments for why they don’t want them to continue in that position. That is, they have a record of votes that opponents can stand against. That’s the democratic process, and it works.
But some of those writing letters to local papers and speaking up in public are twisting the facts. It’s not necessarily those running for office who are doing the damage. No, it’s mostly just average citizens who, in their zeal, may be just forgetful.
It’s tough enough to be an incumbent these days. According to the results of a Smoky Mountain News-WCU Public Policy Institute poll conducted in June, 46 percent of Jackson County voters have an unfavorable opinion of Jackson County government. The unfavorable ratings for the federal government among Jackson County voters is 62 percent.
First and foremost in the mistruths being bandied about in Jackson County is that the sitting commissioners have raised property taxes. They have not. The tax rate of 28 cents per $100 of valuation has not been raised, and in fact over the last decade as re-valuations have occurred, the actual tax rate has decreased.
Obviously, the amount of tax paid by individuals may have risen as their property values have gone up. No one is arguing that point. But counties are required by law to set property values at what is deemed a fair market value. There is a process for determining that value that is used throughout this state and pretty much the entire nation.
In other words, the value placed on someone’s property will be the same no matter who is in office. It’s not controlled by county commissioners, but by the market. Period. Anyone who can prove their home was valued otherwise will get a new valuation.
Another issue in which the facts are being twisted revolves around the temporary moratorium on subdivisions that was put in place for just over three months in 2007. Jackson County commissioners did not enact a building moratorium. Hundreds of subdivisions and thousands of lots already approved were not affected by this temporary measure. Private lots bought after the temporary moratorium were not affected.
The short-term moratorium on new subdivisions gave the county time to develop a subdivision ordinance that, as it turns out, is very reasonable.
And here is perhaps the accusation I find most ridiculous — that Jackson County commissioners are responsible for both the unemployment rate and the building slowdown in Jackson County. That is almost too crazy to even address.
The real estate and building industries are in a shambles in Jackson County, indeed. But it is the same in the entire state, the entire Southeast, the entire country, even most of the world. Banks are slowly crawling out of a credit crunch, and loans once easily available are simply gone. There is little building going on an anywhere. Hanging that on the Jackson commissioners just doesn’t stick.
The same with unemployment problem.
Editors like me are challenged to keep our facts straight. One of the most difficult arenas in which to do that is in our opinion pages. These pages are supposed to allow people to voice their own views, so editors take different approaches to editing submissions. I tend to lean toward letting people have their say.
But over the last few months, some of those writing have taken a few liberties with the truth. When that happens, sometimes it is just best to set the record straight. Call this an endorsement of truth. I always try to vote that way.