JM 1-17 Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 14, 2004

For the past few days, I’ve flipped through thesauruses, turned my head in funny directions, and even considered taking up a yoga class just to streamline my thoughts.

County commissions make strange bedfellows, don’t they?

Then I realized someone else has probably fought the same fight, read through the thesaurus, and maybe even taken a yoga class. Robert Heinlein, a science fiction writer (with a pretty good handle on political thoughts) proved me right.

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“There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”

Thank you, Mr. Heinlein. Do you, per chance, know any members of the Marengo County Commission?

Actually, he probably didn’t, since the author died in 1988 and spent most of his life in either Missouri or California. So we’ll take it from here.

As you’ve probably read — ad nausea — this week, the Marengo County Commission passed a resolution Tuesday morning that will levy a 1-cent sales tax on the people. The commission’s agenda, normally published on the Thursday prior to the meeting, contained no mention of the tax vote. In fact, commission members apparently called each other Monday night and decided they would pass the tax resolution the next morning.

Day by day, citizens in Marengo County have begun to speak out. A letter-to-the-editor on this page indicates one person has decided to shop outside of the county in protest of what the commission did. Another citizen told The Times earlier this week that he’ll show his opposition at the voting booth.

We’ll get back to the public’s take on this tax in a minute. Before doing so, I’d like to spell out some thoughts that came without the luxury of a yoga session.

Minus Ken Tucker, members of the Marengo County Commission made a terrible mistake this week. On the surface, the mistake was passing a sales tax. Then again, a governmental body (as we’ve learned all too well) does have the power to pass a tax — or a resolution creating one, as is the case in this instance.

In that sense, passage of a sales tax was not the mistake county commissioners made. The mistake — the egregious mistake — came when four out of five commissioners decided they knew better than us.

Embark on a quick analogy with me: You’re a 5-year-old standing in the kitchen with your mom, dad and three siblings. You open the counter under the sink. You pick up a funny-shaped bottle with green liquid inside. Then you pull open the bottle and put it to your mouth.

What does everyone in the room do? They SCREAM. They tell you no. They take the bottle away and explain what the sticker with the skull and bones means.

Follow that logic back to the Marengo County Commission, which decided to pick up a funny-shaped green bottle Tuesday morning. If the citizens are the parents and siblings, and everybody screamed, then why in the world did commissioners shot-gun the entire bottle?

There’s a reason, believe it or not, and just for the fun of it, let’s crawl back into the body of the 5-year-old.

The night before your unfortunate event in the kitchen, you found an empty bottle in the bathroom and soaked it in scathing hot water. Then you got some soap and washed it out again (you’re a smart 5-year-old.) After cleaning the bottle thoroughly, you went to the kitchen, mixed up a nice batch of green Kool-Aid, and to keep your pesky siblings from taking it, you hid it under the sink. The next day, with everyone in the room, you opened the cabinet and prepared to take a sip of the delectable drink.

You weren’t really about to drink poison, were you? Of course not; but you made a mistake — an egregious “public relations” mistake, if you will. And since you’re only five years old, I’ll explain what you did wrong.

You cleaned the bottle, mixed the Kool-Aid and hid the bottle in secret. Sure, you didn’t want your siblings to drink your potion, but in your secretiveness, you left your parents and siblings only one option when you tried to take a drink.

If, on that fateful morning in the kitchen, you had pulled the bottle out and said, “Hey, look what I hid from you guys,” no one would have screamed. If you would have told them the bottle had Kool-Aid in it, your mother never would have tried to call the poison control center.

As it stands now, no one knows what’s inside the bottle our county commissioners drank Tuesday morning. There may be an actual need for the revenue generated from a 1-cent sales tax; there may be a better way to raise that revenue.

In either case, the Marengo County Commission has forced us to call poison control, and our only option is to induce regurgitation of the poorly conceived tax resolution.

You can do so by contacting State Reps. Bobby Singleton or Thomas Jackson, and by sending us a letter to the editor. We’ll make sure the commission gets the word.