Madison County Opinion...

JUNE 16, 2004


Column
By Frank Gillispie
The Madison County Journal
June 16, 2004

Frankly Speaking

On Reagan and good deeds
Those of you who watched the ceremonies for the late Ronald Reagan heard repeated references to “the shining city on a hill.” This was Reagan’s favorite description of America’s roll in the world.
Here is the complete scripture from the Gospel of Mathew:
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
We are taught by this scripture to conduct our lives in a way that will be an example for all those around us. That applies to individuals as well as nations. Good works by one should encourage good works by others.
Another quote from the same book sets a different tone:
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven...So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Now, which is the way we are to go? Are we to do our good deeds in the open, making our lives an example for others, or are we to keep our charitable activities quiet, allowing our actions to help the needy without glorifying ourselves?
My understanding from these scriptures is that the deed itself, and the good result of that deed, is what is important. The deed must be the focus of our praise, not the doer of the deed.
It is a question of motive. Why do we do our good deeds? Are we truly concerned for our fellow man, or are we trying to earn brownie points for our own egotistical purposes? Far too many of us say our prayers on the street corner to make sure everyone sees how religious we are. We make our charitable contributions in front of the news cameras to make sure we get credit for our gifts.
Jesus taught us to do good, and not to think about gaining recognition for our good deeds. He wanted us to be seekers of the Kingdom of God, not seekers of personal glory. The “City on the Hill” is a symbol of God’s Kingdom on earth.
Our place in the Kingdom of God is to be ourselves. We are expected to do our jobs to the best of our ability without seeking recognition for our efforts. We are to do our work in full view of the world. But we are to seek God’s approval in private.
Ronald Reagan was good at that.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is frankgillispie@charter.net. His website can be accessed at http://frankgillispie.tripod.com

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Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
June 16, 2004

In The Meantime

Keeping perspective amid ugliness
The blood pressure cuff, the pneumograph, the galvanometer — all parts of a lie detector machine.
Your local tax assessor’s/chairman’s office controversy may soon involve these instruments. We could have rubber tubes filled with air placed around chests, sweat measured on fingertips...
We may actually have lies “detected” by a mechanical device.
Because, yes, somebody is lying.
That’s clear.
Obviously, shady tactics have been employed by someone who is willing to manipulate property records for political gain. And such activity is a serious breach of public trust by at least one person serving our county.
During a notably ugly meeting Monday night, tax assessor chairman John Bellew — who will face three other Democrats seeking the BOC chairman’s seat in the July 20 primary — stood before commissioners saying that someone has been breaking into the tax assessor’s office. Just as bad, he said someone accessed a password-required computer program and changed the property value on his brother’s land from $92,630 to $2.
His allegations raise two possibilities: an underhanded attempt by the chairman’s office to make the assessor’s office look bad, or vice-versa, an underhanded attempt by someone in the assessor’s office to make the chairman’s office look bad.
Trouble is, how do you prove who’s doing the dirty deeds?
You can make the argument that only certain people have access codes to the computer program in question, or you could argue that those codes can be shared if someone chooses and that the entire security system is suspect. Remember, it’s been shown that the “edit history” on the tax assessor’s office computers can be manipulated.
You can believe so and so wouldn’t manipulate records, or believe somebody else would. You can take a side based on belief or loyalty, but proving rightness is entirely different.
So how can anyone from outside the county government complex look at what’s going on inside without significant frustration?
You can’t.
Because valid complaints by one side against another are so entangled in a nasty situation that it’s hard for the public to distinguish the truth from the manipulated “truth.”
And when records are falsified, you certainly have manipulated “truth.”
So what do we do while this plays out?
Well, amid all the ugliness surrounding the conflict between the tax assessors and the chairman’s office, don’t overlook this fact, because it’s the most taxpayer-relevant tidbit of information to emerge recently.
The preliminary tax digest for 2004 is up just over $100 million over the 2003 figure, or approximately 29 percent. In other words, if that preliminary digest is officially approved — increasing the collective value of county land by 29 percent — and if the commissioners and the school board vote later this year to keep tax rates the same as last year, then watch out. You’ll feel the pinch in significantly higher taxes.
Of course, the chairman’s office maintained that county properties were assessed about 25 percent too low last year. And the 29 percent increase in the preliminary 2004 digest does lend credence to that assertion.
But this ugly ordeal has gone far beyond assessing numbers — and passed into the realm of political sport, where manipulation of records has become an ends-justifies-the-means tactic for someone who has lost touch with decency.
It’s worth remembering that whoever aims to put down his or her opponents in the public eye has lost a certain perspective: inner-governmental disputes, no matter how right any side is, will seem no more productive to the public than the inside-the-dugout bickering of a cleanup hitter and his manager.
Wrongly, we assume our government is one entity, one team. Such an assumption includes the expectation that problems will be addressed with clear communication and without malice. We hold on to that belief even against our better judgment.
For instance, we like to think our federal government is coordinating its efforts in our best interests. We like to think that our local and state governments are doing the same.
This is a naive goodness, which is often smothered by reality. Because we see that much energy in government at all levels is spent pushing sideways, not ahead. And we become cynical and dismissive. We oversimplify complex matters and say things like, “another typical election year.”
When conflicts spiral so far out of control that the best option is strapping on the blood pressure cuff of a lie detector machine, our easy dismissal of the political scene is validated, our cynical side wins.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.


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