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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
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As I See It

If you want to complain about local leaders, know who they are

May 6th, 2013 9:09 am by Robert Houk

It was the morning after Johnson City’s April 23 election. I was reading the results of the dismal turnout for the election when I took a call from a young woman who said she wanted the Press to “investigate” problems with the city school system.
I asked her: “Exactly what kind of problems?”
She told me a few things that have disturbed her, including the fact her child’s teacher made her daughter and other students in her class pick up cigarette butts as part of an Earth Day exercise. The woman said she got no satisfaction when she lodged complaints with school officials about this unseemly activity.
“The school board just doesn’t listen,” she said.
I asked if she had spoken directly to a member of the Board of Education.
I asked if she knew the names of any of the members of the Board of Education.
There was a short pause before she replied, “No.”
I then asked if she knew there had been an election for the school board and the city commission held just the day before. This time the pause was a bit longer before she told me that she was not aware of a city election going on.
Her answer really disturbed me.
“How could you not have known of the city election? There were campaign signs out. Maybe not many, but enough to at least stir some interest,” I said. “We’ve had numerous stories and ads in this paper about the city election, and I’m sure the local TV station has as well.”
It would be understandable if she was merely disinterested in politics in general and simply chose to ignore the election. But that was not the case. This woman — who sounded to be a very intelligent individual — by her own admission claimed to be completely unaware that a city election was even going on.
“How was that even possible?” I asked.
“Sir, I’m really busy working and raising my children,” she told me. “I don’t have time to keep up with such things.”
I’m sure she is a conscientious mother, and I’m certain she has a lot on her plate these days juggling work and family life. We all do. But if you wish to complain about how unresponsive your local officials are, you should at least know their names.
On a completely different topic: Both state Rep. Matthew “Boss” Hill and Rep. Micah Van Huss are supporters of the “ag gag” bill. The two Jonesborough Republicans were among the 50 House members who voted for this vile legislation, along with Hill’s little brother, Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, and Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport.
Meanwhile, state Reps. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and Kent Williams, an independent from Elizabethton, voted against the bill.
As of he time of this writing, Gov. Bill Haslam had not said whether he will veto the measure, sign it into law or allow it to become law without his signature. Given his record, however, I predict the governor will let it become law without signing it.
Haslam has shown little gumption in standing up to his Republican brethren in the General Assembly.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at

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