LEXINGTON MAYOR Randy Halfacre's decision to take the job of executive director of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce while continuing to hold public office was an eyebrow-raising choice in and of itself.
With the town's recent hiring of Lexington County Councilman Johnny Jeffcoat as its economic director, we're running out of eyebrows. And we're at a loss as to how these two men can do the jobs they've been hired to do and represent citizens' best interests in the jobs they've been elected to do without being, in a word, conflicted.
While both men insist there is no conflict, the possibility is quite evident.
When the town's interests conflict with the agenda of members of the Chamber of Commerce, whether on zoning and planning or other issues, whose side will Mr. Halfacre represent? That certainly was hard to determine when the mayor pushed to water down the town's toughest-in-the-region smoking ban. Some businesses, specifically bars and restaurants, want the town to remove language that prohibits employees from serving customers on outside decks and patios. Was Mayor Halfacre representing the people who voted him into office or the people who pay his salary? Fortunately, the council hasn't yielded but continues to recognize that secondhand smoke is harmful regardless of where it's encountered - as other governments should.
For his part, Mr. Jeffcoat's new job entails trying to bring new restaurants, retailers and corporate offices to the town of Lexington. Who will he represent when the town's interest conflicts with that of the county? Mr. Jeffcoat says that doesn't happen often and when it does he would recuse himself. We aren't sure how often such conflicts might occur, but they do occur.
Everybody who holds both a job and elective office has the potential to face conflicts from time to time. But the jobs these two men have taken make the conflicts an everyday thing, not an occasional possibility.
Beyond those potential conflicts, Mr. Jeffcoat's hiring smacks of an attempt by the town to gain favor with a member of County Council - and perhaps even to help out the mayor's employer. Town officials say they need someone in the position to help improve economic development in tough times. There's some logic to that approach, but with so few businesses opening, that explanation is insufficient. This position was abolished four years ago because town leaders said it duplicated the efforts of county officials and local business groups. What has changed to make it worth shelling out $68,000 today, when the town, like many other governments and businesses, is having to make cuts to its budget? Is Mr. Halfacre's Chamber of Commerce not doing as good a job as it was?
While it's unclear how this hire will benefit taxpayers, it's evident how Mr. Jeffcoat will benefit. In addition to receiving a good salary, every day he spends in the new position will increase the pension the 14-year councilman would receive after he retires from council.
Town leaders say that during his tenure on the council, Mr. Jeffcoat has focused on bringing jobs into the county and developed invaluable contacts. It would seem that if he developed those contacts in his public capacity, he would share them with the town at no cost.
Mr. Halfacre and Mr. Jeffcoat simply can't serve both of their masters. And the reasoning used to justify each man's attempts does little to lower our raised eyebrows.