The new wisdom: losing the forest for the twigs


Flying a big, donated flag on city hall was like loving one group with a one-arm embrace while extending the other arm behind to poke another group in the eye. It was a symbol, and symbols, like words, do not harm the well-adjusted. The world has enough suffering to relegate those wishing to play the offense game to the realm of histrionic narcissism. There are ways to embrace friends without being in-your-face to others.

Yes, we’ve heard that confining marriage to a sacred covenant between a man and a woman denies gays and lesbians the same opportunities to express their love. That’s not true. Love crawls across broken glass to the most snake-infested part of the Amazon and calls it a bargain. What the piece of paper known as a marriage license does is entitle couples to insurance perks and other legal benefits. It grants status much like a medal from the Wizard of Oz, but it also grants benefits that others in the community must subsidize.

Among those picking up the tab, many would probably be content to live and let live; but they have serious moral qualms about financially enabling a behavior they think is wrong. Whether those serving in government think what these people believe in their hearts is right or wrong, it is their duty to protect their constituents against such coercions of conscience.

As things unfolded in Asheville, the flag served as instigation for partisan polarization. The debate hardly, if at all, mentioned the fear of God and His prophesied destructions, worries about cultural decline with the dissolution of an institution, concern about what was once considered psychologically aberrant behavior, examples parents did not want their children to see modeled, choices that were not natural and thus unhealthy or at least energy-intensive, or anything of the sort. Instead, the problem boiled down to whether or not members of city hall violated open meetings laws by voting to hang a flag without meeting in public and giving citizens a chance to state their views.

Shortly thereafter, Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger kept his office open until 7:00 p.m. to issue marriage licenses. Couples had begun lining up on the steps leading to his office hours previously, awaiting a ruling from Judge Max Cogburn, Jr. The decision was reached shortly after 5:00.

Eddie Harwood, who has been pushing for Reisinger’s resignation, spoke before the Buncombe County Commissioners at their last meeting. He had previously complained to them about Reisinger unofficially closing his office for a snow day and then posting pictures of his flaunting of the rules online. Tuesday, he said Reisinger could only change his office’s hours of operation with a vote of the commissioners. The vote did not take place.

Instead, Reisinger sent an email requesting permission to stay open late. Again, fears about the pros and cons of gay marriage were not articulated and hashed out. Instead, the commissioners entered a discussion where good vs. evil hinged on whether the “reply” or “reply all” button was used.

As County Attorney Bob Deutsch explained, it would have been perfectly legal for Reisinger to cut and paste the message into separate emailings to each commissioner. That would constitute a polling. Instead, Reisinger had spammed a single transmission to all the commissioners. Fortunately, from a legal perspective, a majority of commissioners did not reply-all. If they had, the communication would have constituted an official meeting. But since it was sent on the spur of the moment, statutory guidelines for advertising meetings could not have been followed, and so the meeting would have been illegal.

In Deutsch’s opinion, everything was legal. He suggested legitimizing Reisinger’s decision to change his office hours by having the commissioners vote to have done so retroactively, and this they did. It is assumed the public did not have to be notified retroactively in time to participate meaningfully.

Commissioners Mike Fryar and Joe Belcher expressed dismay over the spurning of the rules. Holly Jones accused Fryar of “frivolous use of taxpayer money for a political witch hunt.” She said it was, “Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.” She took up for Reisinger, saying he didn’t know the rules, and Fryar hinted there was a whiff of incompetence somewhere in that statement.

Reisinger had argued that he had a policy of serving anybody waiting in line by closing time. Chair David Gantt echoed the sentiment, saying the commissioners should extend services to any group assembled en masse. Putting words in his mouth, the commissioners have a responsibility to serve the politically-organized. The poor, the dually-diagnosed homeless and other addicts, delinquent children, and abused women are too dejected and dispossessed to organize a demonstration. It would be sweet to hear leadership say all abused women who can make their way with their kids to the steps of the Bill Stanley building will be put up in a safe house and connected with services.

In closing, who would have believed that the covering of city/county meetings would devolve to such an embarrassing level? Charlie Rich sang, “No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.” It would be nice if we could add, “and nobody cares, either.”

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