From all the comments coming out of county commission meetings and coffeehouse courts of public opinion, you might think that embattled 1st District commissioner Lori Lalouette is the direct descendant of Al-Queda chief Osama Bin Laden — or, perhaps, Richard Nixon at the height of his unpopularity in 1974.
Truth is, despite missing an unusually large number of meetings, Lalouette has at times been a refreshingly valuable member of the commission, often burning midnight oil doing the type of thorough and thoughful research that hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of county commissioners over the years.
Despite what’s been said on virtually every street corner for the past week and a half, her repeated absences — due in part to illness and in part to duties as an attorney, representing those without means to pay for their defense — have in no way paralyzed the county. A 2-0 vote has exactly the same effect as a 3-0 vote or a 2-1 vote. As long as two commissioners are in agreement, business as usual — even the occasional monkey business — can move forward.
Lalouette is a fighter, and we say that in the best sense of the word. Her work as a lawyer has shown she doesn’t give up easily. She undoubtedly will make every effort to improve her attendance and, thanks to her sharp legal mind, undoubtedly can mount at least a delaying challenge to any move to unseat her via a recall election. She has ample cause to believe, rightly or wrongly, that she has been treated as something other than one of the Good Ol’ Boys on the commission since her narrow election two years ago. And like any strong-willed and adept person who feels wronged, she’s likely to fight back.
What we most fervently hope is that she will choose the high road instead, offer her resignation, and accept very appropriate gratitude for her attempt to serve despite illness and a career that isn’t a good match for the marathon meeting schedules commissions must endure.
Since taking office, Lalouette has repeatedly spoken of the desirability for having some form of county administrator — if the right person can be found for the job — to eliminate the horrendously time-consuming process of having every county department head parade before the commission during working hours to make their case. With an administrator as a go-between, commissioners no longer would have to hold court for hour upon hour at times convenient to county employees and could instead meet briefly, probably in the evening, like most city councils and school boards do. After all, how many people in the county can afford to take more than 120 days off every year just to hold court in a commission chamber? With the form of county government that she long has advocated in place, she might actually be a perfect commissioner.
As is, however, the political deck is stacked against her. The longer she remains in office the more vicious the attacks will become. At some point, they are bound to spill over into her personal and professional life, and at that point county business really could grind to a halt.
So entrenched are the forces seeking her ouster that Lalouette must consider providing to herself the same counsel she might to a defendant: Guilty or not, sometimes the best you can do is strike a plea bargain — or, in this case, submit a resignation.
We’re not sure whether it troubles Lalouette that many of the people calling for her to step down are close friends or associates of Craig Dodd, the independent candidate she narrowly defeated two years ago. We have heard concerns in some quarters that the events of the past week and a half are unpleasantly reminiscent of the sour grapes attitudes of some Hillary Clinton supporters in wanting to overturn an election and put their candidate in office instead.
A very easy way to avoid any appearance of the deck being stacked would be for Dodd to renounce any interest in the position, at least until the next regular election. Dodd, like Lalouette, is bright, capable and devoted. He would make a fine commmissioner. But despite finishing a close second to Lalouette in the 2014 election, the taint of cronyism and the fact that he bolted her party to run as an independent work against him.
As it turns out, party officials are the ones who will pick a replacement if Lalouette should resign or be forced from office. Dodd’s desertion of the party, although quite understandable for technical reasons at the time, might be considered by some as disqualifying.
Interestingly, if there is a replacement to be named, the choice will come down to precinct committeemen and committeewomen. A fair number of those positions currently are vacant, and the very real possibility exists that the party’s county chairman might have to select candidates to fill those vacancies. Pragmatically, that means the power to name the county commissioner representing the Hillsboro area could very well rest with a party chairman who happens to also be the mayor of Marion.
This could be the strangest twist of all in what has become a very strange story for Marion County, and it once again points out the need for average citizens to stop blaming everyone else and becoming actively involved — as both Dodd and Lalouette have done — in seeking office.
The problem is, it’s awfully hard to motivate people to willingly expose themselves to the type of scrutiny and public ridicule that Lalouette has experienced in the past week and a half.
Whatever we do, whatever our position on whether she should stay or go, let’s not forget that we owe her, and everyone else who volunteers to seek office, a huge vote of thanks. They are what make our nation possible.
— ERIC MEYER