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Scott Jenkins column: Too hard to swallow?

Once, when I was very young, I got so sick that I’m told I became delirious and stood in the middle of the bed yelling at my stepfather: “Stop throwing bread at me!”

My family was visiting relatives in Cleveland, Ohio. I hadn’t yet learned to swim, and my stepfather had taken me to Lake Erie, which at the time could just as easily have been called Lake Eewie. It wasn’t clean. During my swimming lesson, I’d gulped down some of that water, and that apparently led to my irrational fear of sandwich slices.

Makes you wonder how high Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce’s fever was this week when he inexplicably lashed out at fellow board members over the pace of renovation at the county-owned West End Plaza.

At the meeting, the board unanimously approved seeking a nearly $4 million loan that would replace money the last configuration of commissioners withdrew from county savings to buy the former Salisbury Mall and provide cash for some renovations. That vote had to please Pierce, who’s been a staunch supporter of the mall purchase.

But a majority of the board also voted to hold off on renovating any of the 320,000-square-foot facility and cancel existing contracts to do so for parts of it. They want to see the final version of a space needs study that’s scheduled to be ready in March.

Not finding out how much space departments need before carving up all that square footage — or deciding whether that’s even the right place to do it — would be putting “the cart before the horse,” Commissioner Judy Klusman said.

That didn’t sit well with Pierce at all. He accused several of his fellow board members of being the “best commission that the city council’s money can buy” and followed with, “And you know what I mean.” Maybe they do, but I’m not sure anyone but Pierce does. Maybe he means they’re not threatening to yank every county employee they can find out of the downtown area, a threat that was at least perceived if not implied when the county bought the mall.

And for good measure, Pierce told commissioners Chairman Greg Edds that his support for waiting on the space needs study before going ahead with renovations “just goes to show you that you don’t know how county government works.”

In fact, it’s how this county government worked that helped Edds, Klusman and Vice Chairman Jim Greene get elected. At least, it’s how the former Board of Commissioners worked on buying the mall that played a big part. It happened with very little discussion for a multi-million-dollar real estate purchase, and no public input until after the fact, when commissioners began seeking the loan to replace what they’d taken from savings to fund their acquisition.

And a good bit of the discussion that did take place happened behind closed doors under the guise of “economic development,” which remains a head-scratcher since commissioners took privately owned commercial property off the tax rolls and thus far haven’t created any jobs. At least they didn’t ask for incentives.

Pierce was in the majority for all of this, as he’d been since his election in 2012. He wasn’t up for re-election this past year, but the only commissioner who was and sought another term — former chairman Jim Sides — wound up fifth in his own primary. Meanwhile, Edds, Greene and Klusman — all of whom promised to take a hard look at the mall purchase and whether it was the best thing for the county — won fairly easily.

I’m not trying to disparage Pierce. In interviews, I’ve found him easy to talk with, easier than a lot of public officials. He seems to genuinely care about working toward a county animal shelter where no adoptable animal is put to death. And a few years ago, we wrote about his leading an effort to buy rings for the North Rowan state championship teams in basketball and track. He didn’t call to tell us he’d done that. Someone else did.

But it seems wrong to insult duly elected fellow commissioners the way Pierce did this week. I know my family could point to episodes when I was a child and say I was acting like a brat. But when I stood in the middle of that bed and screamed about being attacked with bread, I was sick. Maybe Pierce was just feeling ill, too.

As for understanding how county government works, give the new board members a couple of years, and they’ll apparently be experts.

And as for Pierce, it seems he’s getting a taste of what life is like in the minority. Eewie.

Scott Jenkins is news editor of the Salisbury Post.

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