The argument, which has been carried out in letters back and forth between Macon County State’s Attorney Jack Ahola and members of the Macon County Board, may be entertaining, but it’s a waste of time.
The disagreement boils down to the Democratic primary battle for state’s attorney. Ahola, who is retiring at the end of his term, has endorsed his first assistant, Jay Scott. Jay Dunn, D-Decatur, who is chairman of the Macon County Board, is a member of the campaign committee for Steve Langhoff, a former assistant state’s attorney who is running against Scott.
The campaign has been spirited, and it appears Scott and Langhoff have legitimate differences on how the state’s attorney’s office should be managed. It’s healthy when primary opponents have honest disagreements about crucial issues.
What’s not necessary or even appropriate is when campaign issues leak into the operation of county government. That’s been allowed to happen at county board and committee meetings.
Dunn started with questions about employee rules in the state’s attorney office, specifically employees who were allowed to leave early or work from home. Scott’s wife, Judy, works at the state’s attorney’s office and has been allowed to work from home. Ashby has also raised questions about the salary increases Ahola has granted to some employees.
Last week, Ahola sent county board members a letter explaining that such conversations were politically motivated and should not take place during county board and committee meetings. He also said county board members might be violating the law by practicing politics during the meetings.
Monday night, Dunn and Ashby fired back with a letter saying they had the right to ask about the operations of the state’s attorney’s office so they can make informed decisions about county finances. In a later interview, Dunn said Ahola's charge that the questions were politically motivated is “(the state’s attorney’s) interpretation and not necessarily anybody else’s.”
But what other interpretation is there?
The board and its committees have been relatively quiet about the operations of the state’s attorney’s office for the past several months. The last budget process did not raise the type of questions that are being asked now, in volume or number. County board members certainly have the right to ask questions, but why now? The timing is not a coincidence: It’s politically motivated. Dunn and Ashby can deny that it is the case, but any reasonable person looking at the timing of these issues would disagree.
Every citizen has the right to support the candidate of his or her choice. Every county board member has the right to ask questions about county operations and the county’s finances.
But county board members, especially the chairman and head of a major committee, also have an obligation to keep their personal politics out of public meetings. Dunn and Ashby have failed in that regard.
If these financial issues are as crucial as Dunn and Ashby claim, they should have been addressed long ago. At this point, the discussion can wait until after the March 20 primary.