Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Views

April 28, 2013

Editorial: Don't let threatening behavior derail democracy

An ugly incident occurred in the Record-Eagle’s lobby last week, an intimidation effort carried out against one of the newspaper’s writers by a Leelanau County commissioner’s husband. The incident included a borderline assault and a not-so-subtle threat of violence.

That hostile behavior mirrors what we’re increasingly seeing in regional local government, a mindset fueled by tough talk, chain e-mails, hate blogs and other media, and an unquestioning embrace of bizarre conspiracy theories.

Sometimes local public officials are targeted; they find themselves confronted by citizens quick to embrace mob mentality and very willing to unleash their venom on government officials.

An example occurred last month in Benzie County, when commissioners barely dodged tar-and-feather treatment after adopting an ordinance to rid the county of blighted buildings and disintegrating properties. An angry meeting crowd accused a Benzie official of being a communist, surely a shock to commissioners, most of whom consider themselves conservative Republicans.

Benzie leaders backtracked when confronted by the froth, and agreed to gut the blight ordinance. What a victory for the “little guys.” What’s next, welcoming signs on U.S. 31 at the county’s north and south borders that read “Benzie County: Don’t tread on our blight”?

In Leelanau County, the conspiracy crowd propelled some of their ilk to elected office. But attaining public office means there’s a risk someone might pay attention to their representatives’ words and actions. No longer can they be sure their coffee shop cronies are the only ones exposed to various railings about presidential birthplaces or threats from United Nations helicopters.

The incident at the Record-Eagle’s office came after a story about the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners’ recent moves to reject a $16,500 payment to the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corp. and dismantle the county’s Economic Development Board.

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