Living in the land of kingdoms
There’s an old adage in journalism circles that says something along the lines of, “If the feathers on both sides of the coop get ruffled, you’re probably doing alright.”
OK, so I may have added a layer of country-boy flavor to the saying, but the spirit of the message remains the same.
In the newspaper business, our goal isn’t to please public officials or politicians. We’re there to accurately inform the citizenry, and the public good is our driving force.
Well, it seems a few feathers — on both sides of the coop — have been ruffled in recent weeks, and I, for one, am actually encouraged by that fact.
The central element of angst is the countywide EMS effort that culminated last September, when the county-owned and county-operated ambulance service officially began.
Keith Rhoades, whose beat includes county government, wrote an article in January, entitled “County preps for EMS fight,” that stemmed from the discussion at the Morgan County Board of Commissioners meeting and included talking points from all the main players. As it turns out, not all the townships have been eager to get behind the county’s EMS service, and folks in the article were quoted stating as much.
You’d have thought Rhoades was responsible for the Black Plague based on the reactions of some.
Some contended he was fanning the flames of a problem that didn’t really exist. Others said, based on his former role as an ambulance driver, that he shouldn’t be writing anything on the subject and his coverage was biased from start to finish.
In reality, it would appear the story struck at the heart of the entire problem, and the subsequent fallout — from both sides of the conversation — underscores that assertion.
Some years ago, I was working in an area that had nine different fire departments within the county’s borders. Each had its own staff, its own equipment and unique budget. Any “mutual aid” agreements they had in place would depend on how one chief felt about another chief on that particular day, leading to unpredictable responses and resources to a call.
The county officials had been mulling the decision to unite the departments for years, but the backlash they received at even the mention of such an abhorrent notion proved intimidating.
But a few years ago, they finally mustered the courage to pull the trigger. They hired an outside guy to come in and bring the various departments under one umbrella, turning each into a battalion for the county’s “unified fire” department.
It was amazing to watch, and luckily, they found a guy with some chutzpah. He called a meeting with all the department chiefs and told them what was in store, giving them the choice to either get on board or get out of the way.
Amazingly, nearly all of them jumped aboard and they were truly united in the collective effort. In no time, response times were shaved, resources increased, and the collective budgets decreased. Efficiencies were found at every turn, and the climate of cooperation throughout the county improved by leaps and bounds.
I tell that tale not to say that such an approach has a universal application, but to demonstrate the entrenched — and often intimidating — power that tends to define the little kingdoms of government, even the well-intentioned kingdoms.
Human nature is a funny thing, and the effects of power are not to be underestimated. Rare is the person who readily loosens his grip on power.
Here in Morgan County, we live in the land of mini kingdoms, and it’s become increasingly apparent that a few people have a tight grip on their respective domains. What’s more, they certainly don’t want “outsiders” telling them how best to run their show.
The recent ruffle clearly shows that not everybody is sitting around singing “Kumbaya,” despite the insistence of some. The county, which has been talking about it for well over a decade now, spearheaded the effort to provide EMS services within the county. Two townships received the county’s blessing to continue providing their own ambulance service. But it seems a few others are still reluctant to get on board ... and the fight continues.
Let’s hope cooler heads can prevail in this whole thing. Difficult — and direct — conversations need to be had, and a solution needs to be found. Somebody with a little chutzpah wouldn’t hurt either.
Stephen Crane is managing editor of the Reporter-Times. He’s a native of Martinsville.
by Stephen Crane | Managing Editor of the Reporter-Times | Published Feb 9, 2018 in The Reporter Times