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Archive for Thursday, May 6, 1993

POLITICAL PAYBACK

May 6, 1993

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People who hold political office are used to paybacks, but County Commissioner Louie McElhaney appears to be the target of a particularly unfair piece of political retribution.

An outspoken opponent of the county's plan to close Valley View Nursing Home apparently has decided to retaliate against McElhaney's vote in favor of the closing by raising a conflict-of-interest issue against the commissioner. The question is whether McElhaney, who also is the Wakarusa Township fire chief, is violating a state law that prohibits a person from holding two public offices at the same time.

Although the Wakarusa Township board was told by the state attorney general before McElhaney ran for office that the move wouldn't be a conflict, the issue was raised again, and Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan switched horses, saying a conflict might exist. Stephan said he wouldn't pursue the issue, but Douglas County Dist. Atty. Jerry Wells seemed eager to jump into the fray and said he would investigate the matter.

Perhaps Wells felt he had no choice but to look into the issue, but it is unfortunate that McElhaney is being forced to defend actions which seem to have been undertaken in good faith and have had no detrimental effect on the performance of his office. He has been elected twice, and he is not being questioned now on the basis of his qualifications or service, but because someone was unhappy about the way he voted on a single issue facing the county.

There don't appear to be any significant conflicts between McElhaney's two posts. His fire department job requires him to supervise employees, but he has no budgetary duties. From a practical standpoint, his job as a commissioner has had virtually no effect on his job as a fire chief.

The current conflict-of-investigation may lead to McElhaney's ouster from the commission. If that is the letter of the law, so be it. But it would sit a lot better with many county residents if McElhaney were being questioned on his overall abilities or service rather than being held hostage to a vote he cast on a single county issue.

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