Editorial: Public deserves apology from Pierce

Published 12:01 am Sunday, October 24, 2021

Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce has been the beneficiary of an extraordinary amount of kindness and grace from his peers despite attempting to use his political position and connections to weasel out of charges he knew were coming.

Pierce was charged in June with driving while impaired for a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit. Between being pulled over and being charged at the magistrates office, he threatened officers and attempted to abuse his connections by calling in help from high-powered friends.

The court system this month ruled on the driving while impaired charge, giving him 24 months of unsupervised probation, community service and a substance abuse assessment requirement. There’s been no ruling on the way Pierce behaved after the stop, putting police officers in a potentially compromising position. The police officers handled themselves perfectly, ignoring threats and enforcing the law.

Pierce’s fellow commissioners are people of high character and proved that in response to the arrest. Asked in August, commissioners said things like everyone is “battling demons” and offered him an extraordinary degree of grace. Their responses put aside public insults as well as private ones they’re unlikely to disclose.

Pierce has proven time and again his modus operandi is to be brash. Items that could have produced relatively routine, healthy debate have gone personal. People who have paid attention to local politics have seen it — from calling teachers “sheeple” to telling Greg Edds, Jim Greene and Judy Klusman they were the best commissioners the Salisbury City Council’s money could buy.

As shown in a two-hour body camera video from the traffic stop, Pierce turned personal insults into threats to call in personal favors, name-dropping Sheriff Kevin Auten and state Sen. Carl Ford. His comments annoyed and angered officers in the Salisbury Police Department.

“You’re not going to stop me from calling the sheriff,” Pierce told the officers, who maintained their composure and reminded Pierce they don’t work for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.

Pierce hasn’t answered questions about the incident publicly, but he owes the people of Rowan County an apology for the way he attempted to abuse his position as a county commissioner and the friends he’s made along the way. He might not have said the same things if he was stopped sober, but that doesn’t eliminate the need for an apology.

The code of ethics adopted by commissioners in 2010 starts with this: “The stability and proper operation of democratic representative government depend on public confidence in the integrity of government and upon responsible exercise of the trust conferred by the people upon their elected officials.”

Elected leaders cannot shirk their responsibilities to uphold ethical principles when not in a meeting room. If Pierce does not apologize, he is tacitly stating his conduct during the traffic stop is in compliance with another part of the code of ethics: “Board members must be aware of their obligation to conform their behavior to standards of ethical conduct that warrant the trust of their constituents. Each official must find within his or her own conscience the touchstone by which to determine what conduct is appropriate.”

Whether Pierce apologizes or not, it is voters that ultimately guide the conscience of elected officials. There’s no doubt his behavior after being stopped is not a reflection of Pierce’s constituents’ values.