Water balloons versus public forums

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Public accountability comes into question with obvious boycott of community forum

By Randy Arrington, publisher

Local election cycles are hard for the public to ignore, with a flood of political signs dotting the landscape and the obvious public appearances that draw elected officials to events all over the county, from getting doused by water balloons on the beach of Lake Arrowhead to a long line of ribbon cuttings for new businesses, walking trails and special occassions. Unfortunately, some on the ballot this fall are choosing to ignore some rather important events.

When the event allows the candidate to control the situation, it seems to draw a lot of grip-and-grin politics — but when the event poses candid questions and asks incumbents to be accountable for their actions…crickets…at least when it comes to the majority of our current constitutional officers.

After a week of being admonished by members of the Page County Board of Supervisors during open session, our constitutional officers then decided (seemingly collectively) to boycott a public forum hosted by “Know Your Local Candidates, Page County” at Trackside Theater on Thursday evening. Many noted the absences in their comments on the social media platform, and applauded those who participated.

During the supervisors’ Aug. 28 meeting, Commissioner of Revenue Becky Smith got scolded for not bringing an update to the standards for determining tax relief for the elderly to the board sooner. Smith stated that the document that hadn’t been touched since 2006 was “in dire need of an update.” The supervisors then questioned why this had waited 13 years before being brought back before the board, and while they received no direct answer from the two-term commissioner, Smith did say that all of the assessments in this program would be done in-house by Dec. 1 and she recommended that the standards be reviewed more often.

Near the end of last week’s meeting, the supervisors wanted answers from Clerk of the Circuit Court Grayson Markowitz about the backlogs in processing orders written by a judge. The backlog cost the county unnecessarily (in housing inmates) and even exposed the county to civil liability.

Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Cave, who is unopposed this election cycle, quickly took the stand to explain orders, why they got backlogged and what has been done to fix the problem. The uncontested incumbent also took the blame, did not challenge supervisors when they scolded him. Cave took it, apologized, and pledged that these problems were behind us. Markowitz offered the same pledge, minus the apology.

Even Sheriff Chad Cubbage got pulled into the conversation last week, as the discussion noted how the extra costs of housing inmates affected the sheriff’s budget — an almost annual discussion over the last eight years between the sheriff and the supervisors over fiscal issues and overspent funds. During one such discussion about two years ago, Sheriff Cubbage simply walked out of of the board room rather than continue to answer their questions.

On Thursday, a public forum was held at Trackside Theater by a non-profit, grassroots organization trying to get more information about the candidates on the November ballot out to the voters of Page County. Ten candidates on the local ballot attended, four of the eight absences were noticeable:

  • Treasurer Penny Gray (unopposed);
  • Commissioner of Revenue Becky Smith;
  • Clerk of the Court Grayson Markowitz;
  • Sheriff Chad Cubbage.

The other four absentees are all unopposed, one on the board of supervisors and three on the school board. The obvious boycott by four of the five constitutional officers (Cave attended the forum) seems to support a rumor that the sitting incumbents have agreed collectively not to attend forums or debates.

The same held true when Becky Smith was invited to attend the first of four recorded debates planned among candidates in contested races that Page Valley News intends to broadcast on its new YouTube channel, launching Sept. 20.

“Mr. Arrington, I will not be participating in any debates against my challenger, recorded or otherwise. I believe that my record over the past eight years, along with the tremendous outpouring of support I have gotten from the community, speaks volumes,” Smith replied to the invite for the PVN debate.

PVN plans to record four separate debates — focusing on one race at a time — with no audience and no editing. Much of the format will be similar to the forum held Thursday night, although civil back-and-forth discussion will be allowed.

When pitching the debate to candidates (only two races have been approached at this time), we sold it as an opportunity to sit candidates side-by-side to talk intelligently about the issues key to the office they are seeking.

“I can assure you that my 35 years of experience and Master Certification has prepared me to ‘speak intelligently on issues that are relevant and important to the office’ I am seeking,” Smith stated in her reply. “My door is always open to my constituents; I can also be reached via email, Facebook, or phone. I love speaking to my fellow residents, sharing stories, and helping them with any questions they may have. A recorded political debate is not an appropriate forum in which to do so.”

So, it seems it’s more important to sit underneath a water ballon on the beach of Lake Arrowhead to gain public attention, than it is to sit before the voters and answer questions. During a charity fundraiser, Page County’s constitutional officers were five-for-five in showing up to be doused with water balloons, but they were a meager one-for-five in attendance at the public forum.

Sheriff Cubbage reached out to us this week for more information about the debates, but stated he would wait for the details before making a decision. We encouraged him to take the opportunity to show why he should be re-elected sheriff — anyone seeking a role as important as that should be held accountable for their eight years in office. It’s also interesting how the sheriff released a four-part, professionally produced and scripted political video series the day after skipping the public forum at Trackside.

We ask each of you to encourage those on the ballot to participate in these debates. As we stated to the candidates, we are not out to embarrass anyone or play “gotcha” journalism. We simply want to have an intelligent conversation about the issues important to the office they seek.

So, if you see Becky, or Chad, or Grayson out on the street, encourage them to come out and show why they make good leaders. Anyone who can’t talk publicly, unscripted, about the issues surrounding a public position they seek, probably doesn’t deserve that position.

Even if our videos only get 10 views, we feel the effort is worth it. It’s truly a shame that our elected officials don’t feel the same way.

At last count, the forum hosted by “Know Your Local Candidates, Page County” had more than 3,000 views…and counting.

To view the Sept. 7 public forum, CLICK HERE.



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    • The media is the only thing that seperates us from the dictatorships in countries like China and Russia. Bring back the Fairness Doctrine that Reagan killed.

    • Yes, one “false charge” that is admitted to on video ..got it Mark..If you can email and explain in-depth why you can’t attend a public forum/debate, then you have no excuse for not attending, pathetic …my vote just changed for sure.

  1. Unfortunately for our democracy, the vast majority of our politicians no longer believe in the art of dialectic. Open discussion and debate are becoming as rare as accountability. Just another symptom of a democracy teetering on the brink of collapse.

  2. The media is the only thing that seperates us from the dictatorships in countries like China and Russia. Bring back the Fairness Doctrine that Reagan killed.

  3. Robert Sanford, wow. I think that this editorial speaks for itself in the importance of media, especially locally produced journalism. This perpetual shaming of media and journalism only serves to narrow the pipeline of truth.

  4. Robert,

    I’ve noticed it’s generally the Republicans who are afraid of the media, and who also duck subpoenas to testify before legally constituted committees and courts.

  5. Thanks for an outstanding editorial. Great job. Keep it up. We must have transparency and accountability. Participation in debatesis critical. Not voting for anyone who doesn’t. I also thank the BOS for demanding answers. I would like to see a lot more of this.

  6. Our local political monopoly, also known as the Page County Republicans, stopped trying to win our votes a long time ago. They nominate their cronies, regardless of qualification, and expect they will be elected. They have no idea how to respond to an actual election where voters have choices. How dare we ask them to state their views or plans for the future.
    Shake ‘‘em up. Vote independent.

    • Tom Merton. “Our local political monopoly, also known as the Page County Republicans, stopped trying to win our votes a long time ago. They nominate their cronies, regardless of qualification, and expect they will be elected.”
      LOL. Did you know the DNC and all their cronies have decided to not have primaries where the people could select the Democratic candidate for President in 2024? Instead, the DNC and their cronies have decided on their own to go with Joe and Harris. Yet the Democrats are always blowing off about “saving democracy.”
      Can you explain further?

      • You skipped past the word ‘local.”
        Lots of reasons not to vote for Democrats.
        But Democrats aren’t our problem in Page County governance.
        A ruling group that has gotten so fat and lazy that they treat our Constitutional offices like retirement benefits is our local problem..
        That group is the local GOP.
        Fortunately, you don’t have to vote Democratic to get rid of them.
        Lots of good conservative minded INDEPENDENTS on the ballot.
        Pick one. Shake it up.

        • So you are upset that voters can choose who they want, and Republicans outnumber the others, so that makes them a “machine”?
          There are no restrictions like the “machine” tactics of the DNC deliberately cutting off voters who don’t want Joe and Harris.

  7. While there is no “machine” I will say I am not terribly impressed with the Page republican party so far. I am about as republican as they come but I do not like their choices for sheriff because of both personal and professional conduct that they seem to ignore. Also the apparent abandonment of a candidate because the sitting candidate was “too friendly” with known democrats.
    I also am not impressed with the Democratic party in this county because they also mindlessly support known candidates with personal and professional issues but since they are democrats they get the nod.

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