Service should be honorable

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 21, 2004

Staff Editorial

Serving the public, in any form of governmental role, has a far greater reward than the paycheck it offers. Those who aspire to keep government useful and honest, in turn, protect the livelihood of every citizen, and no paycheck can compensate for succeeding at such a dubious task.

Serving the public also requires a saintly sense of statesmanship. Accepting the responsibility to hold public office – at any level – dictates moral discretion at its height. In a sense, government officials are bound by the Biblical premonition of shunning even the appearance of “evil.”

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At one point, maybe before our lifetimes, leaders searched for honesty and usefulness in their daily tasks. They hungered for integrity. Today, they strive for slight-of-hand, and no better example exists than Hale County and its bottomless hat of political trickery.

When a community can’t hold an election – not a single one – without accusations of fraud and deception, do we chuckle at the arcane behavior? Do we simply bury our heads under the coattails of the magicians and walk away?

We shouldn’t, but we do. For some reason, we watch the fading democracy of Hale County and refuse to support those whose only request is candor.

While at least two Hale County elections continue through the drabble of political confusion, another election – which hasn’t even been held – has been tarnished with the “appearance of evil.”

According to state opinions, there is nothing wrong with Gay Nell Tinker serving as an election official in Hale County. The job of a circuit clerk, in most local governments, is to compile and protect the absentee balloting.

There also is nothing statutorily wrong with the fact that Tinker is married to a candidate whose name is found on those absentee ballots.

At the same time, Tinker has created cause for concern because some voters have been told to send their absentee ballots to Tinker’s hometown rather than to the courthouse. Even more disconcerting – and rightly so – not all absentee ballots are being sent to the same address. Some go to the courthouse, others go to Sawyerville.

It appears, based on state rulings, that Tinker has not done anything illegal in this process. We do not wish to indict her on any such charge, and we have no reason to personally attack Hale County’s circuit clerk.

We do, however, have reason to protect those citizens who desire integrity in the electoral process, and Tinker has apparently stained the confidence of her constituency.

The State of Alabama, at some point, must determine whether the political debauchery in Hale County is worthy of serious investigation. Until then, it’s up to Tinker and Singleton and every other politician in Hale County to eliminate the slight-of-hand tactics that cause such great consternation.

Most political officials long ago discarded the premise of statesmanship; such is certainly the case in Hale County.