Commissioners miss the mark

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners' decision to deny an appointed position to an applicant rumored to have burned an American flag was wrong on two levels.

First, the commissioners placed themselves above the Constitution in their reasoning for rejecting the applicant. Second, they acted on rumor — an untrue rumor as it turned out — with one commissioner in particular propagating the falsehood.

Earlier this month, the three commissioners unanimously voted against the nomination of Wes Brain to serve on the Rogue Valley Workforce Development Council, citing reports that he had participated in a flag-burning protest.

Turns out, that was wrong. Brain, who has been an outspoken political activist, adamantly denies that he ever burned a flag and no one has come forward to say they witnessed him do so. The entire evidence brought against Brain's nomination came from Commissioner Jack Walker, who now says his information was "based more on hearsay than on any fact."

We don't consider flag-burning to be an effective or appropriate form of protest. It creates anger and divisiveness that often obscures the real issue and it is highly offensive to many, if not most, people in this country. Activists who really want to make a change, rather than just make a statement, know that flag burning is a self-defeating proposition because it creates more opposition than support.

But it's not illegal — in fact it has been upheld by the Supreme Court as a constitutional right protected by the First Amendment. In essence, the county commissioners placed themselves in the position of deciding which of our constitutional rights they will respect.

That's the first piece of the argument. The second is even more basic: Why are the commissioners making a decision based on rumor? Why did Jack Walker offer up that information without evidence? Commissioners C.W. Smith and Dave Gilmour may have grounds to say they were led astray by Walker, but Walker has no defense for entering a rumor into the public record.

To be sure, Brain brought a certain amount of baggage to the discussion. He has been an outspoken political activist who can be abrasive and confrontational. But if the commissioners didn't like him for those reasons, they simply should have said so.

The issue also points to an apparent flaw in the appointment process. Walker said the board often does not have adequate information about potential appointees. The board should make certain in the future that staff has done sufficient homework so that the county's elected leaders are not asked to make uninformed decisions.

It is incumbent upon public officials to follow the law of the land. While they're at it, they should also adhere to the basic rules of fairness.

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