Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Kim Davis Is An Example - For Change

This column appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, September 7, 2015.

GOUVEIA: Kim Davis controversy reminds us we should appoint, not elect, clerks

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Posted: Sunday, September 6, 2015 8:45 pm | Updated: 11:33 am, Tue Sep 8, 2015.
Thank you, Kim Davis. You made a point I have been advancing for decades far better than I have ever done. Good job.
For those who don't know, Kim Davis is the elected county clerk in Rowan County, Ky. At this writing she is residing in the Carter County Detention Center because she refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples despite the fact that is part of her job.
To the far right and conservative politicians like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, she is a hero standing up for her fundamental Christian beliefs. To the courts, she is a disobedient elected official who is in contempt of court for failing to follow the law.
To me, she is Exhibit A in the list of reasons why town/city/county clerks should be appointed rather than elected. That is a battle I have been fighting for the better part of the last three decades. But Kim Davis has brought all the reasons supporting it into much clearer focus than I could have ever done.
Davis is a fundamentalist Christian who believes gay marriage is a sin and an abomination. She says it goes against her conscience and beliefs to award marriage licenses to gay couples. She claims she should not have to go against her beliefs in issuing said licenses.
The courts have ruled she is a municipal employee who is refusing to do her job. The Supreme Court has ruled such licenses are legal, and Clerk Davis believes she has the right to ignore that.
Let's give Davis the benefit of the doubt and assume her religious beliefs are honestly and closely held. If they mean that much to her, if she cannot possibly allow herself to grant wedding licenses, she has a few valid options.
She could refuse to do it personally and have others in her office handle the licensing. Or she could truly follow her conscience and show that the religious beliefs are at the heart of her objection - and resign. She could just refuse to be a part of what she believes to be wrong.
But Davis doesn't feel THAT strongly about it. She has demonstrated she's willing to go to jail over the issue, which certainly speaks to her commitment (or her intelligence, depending on your point of view).
She has clearly stated "God's authority" supersedes the law in this instance. Which makes her totally unfit for the position she holds. Being a clerk has nothing to do with God, religion, or personal beliefs. It is a job. The person holding it is a paid employee. They are subject to the rules and laws of the land.
If Davis were an appointed official, she could be fired for failing to do her job. But because she is elected, the process to remove her is political, long and arduous. She knows this, or she would not be taking the hardline position she currently holds.
This is exactly why local clerk positions should also be appointed and not elected - because their personal beliefs have absolutely nothing to do with the job they must perform.
Think about it. We don't elect school superintendents, who spend the lion's share of our local budgets. We don't elect police and fire chiefs, who are responsible for our safety and that of our families. We don't elect the town managers/town administrators who oversee them.
But for the most part, we still elect clerks. Why? Because we always have. Because it seems more democratic. Because "they can't keep taking away our right to vote".
But when we elect a clerk rather than hiring one, we lose a large amount of control. We can't set firm hours. We can't insist the operation of the office comply with town procedures and rules. And more importantly - we can't easily fire them if they screw up.
So I would like to publicly thank Kim Davis. By being a bigoted scofflaw who places herself above the law and those she serves, she has perfectly illustrated why I and others have fought to make town and city clerks appointed. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Let's hope our local communities learn a lesson from Kim Davis.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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