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When President Trump urged members of Congress to "reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution," we don't believe he had Washington County government in mind.

He could have, but he's probably got more important things on his mind. At least, we hope so.

What’s the point?

It’s unfortunate a justice of the peace and a county judge have let their conflicts interfere with good government.

And yet, Washington County Judge Joseph Wood's decision to freeze Justice of the Peace Eva Madison out of any committee assignments for the current term would, at least, appear to be an act of resistance. Revenge or retribution? Only the judge can answer that.

In Wood's appointment process for the new year, he asked the justices of the peace who serve on the Quorum Court to submit their preferences for assignment among the three committees made up of seven members each -- county services, personnel and jail/law enforcement. A fourth panel, for budget and finance, is a committee of the whole, meaning all 15 justices of the peace are voting members.

When Wood released his list of appointments, Madison was the only justice not appointed to any of the three smaller panels. Wood explained Madison did not respond to his request for preferences. He apparently took that to mean she had no interest in serving on any of those committees.

"That's all it is," Wood said in late January.

Count us skeptical.

Madison, an attorney who has served as a justice of the peace representing east Fayetteville's District 9 since 2011, seems to follow the axiom that well-behaved women seldom make history. Some will remember that she rubbed the last county judge the wrong way to the point that Marilyn Edwards, a fellow Democrat, ran for justice of the peace against Madison in a primary as she left the county judge's office. Madison and Wood, likewise, have clashed. Madison last year sued Wood over a failure to produce public documents she requested -- and she won. She's been vocal in questioning Wood's spending in office.

And now, she's been exiled from membership on any of three committees, where the real grunt work of county legislative business happens.

Now, let's not let Madison off the hook here. She's elected to represent a district that, ideally, contains one-fifteenth of the population. Knowing that the Wood administration doesn't care much for her views or tactics, Madison nonetheless opened the door for the county judge to exclude her while claiming it was her fault for not submitting any committee preferences.

She should know better. She declined to participate because she was playing games, too. All she needed to do was submit her preferences as the judge asked and, unless he was bent on abusing her no matter what, he would likely have had to follow through and appoint her to at least one of the affected committees.

Madison let the political tensions influence her decision and it cost her constituents, who lost a voting membership on at least one committee.

As for Wood, what was it he asked the justice of the peace for? Their preferences. Does it make any sense that a county judge -- at least one who desires to rise above political enmity -- would interpret Madison's lack of expressed preferences as a desire to not serve on any committee at all? If a county judge desires to respect representative government and treat all 15 justices of the peace with the fairness they deserve, doesn't it seem more reasonable that a leader would have (1) picked up the phone and inquired with Madison about her missing preferences or (2) simply selected a committee or two for her to serve on?

Neither Wood and Madison communicated. They didn't want to communicate. And what the taxpayers get is petty squabbling, which eventually gets in the way of effective government.

Whether Wood likes the individual who holds the title of justice of the peace or not, all 15 of them have been elected. All 15 of them have the same authority from the people. All 15 of them have a duty to do their best in representing the interests of their constituents.

If a county judge is trying to ostracize one of them, he's trying to ostracize the people that justice of the peace represents. That's also a collection of people the county judge, who is elected countywide, is supposed to be serving.

It could appear that the judge wants the other justices of the peace to know he will play hardball if they act too independently of his wishes or raise questions that are uncomfortable to answer. Questioning, especially when it comes to spending, is one of the most important jobs the Quorum Court does.

What now? This could all be resolved if the judge placed Madison on a committee, which he should have done all along. It wouldn't resolve the personal tensions, but it would set right the issue of representation of county residents.

All Quorum Court members (and the public) can attend committee meetings. Quorum Court members can all speak and ask questions. So Madison can certainly keep up with business. But when it comes time to vote, only committee members hold sway.

We'd rather county government remain focused on the important business it conducts rather than personal and political animosities. When those flair up, county residents are right to wonder, where are the adults?

Commentary on 02/08/2019

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