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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Publisher

Opinion: Nepotism argument translates to 'loss of power'

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

By Roger Sims, Publisher

Linn County Commissioner Jim Johnson is, to use the words of Chief’s tight-end Travis Kelsey, more than a little “butthurt” that things haven’t gone his way on the commission for nearly a year.

But unlike Kelsey, who reportedly wanted to give a friendship bracelet to songwriting superstar Taylor Swift, Johnson isn’t looking to give out friendship bracelets anytime soon. In fact, Johnson seems to have made it his business to make commission meetings the I-don’t-wanna-watch-but-I-gotta-watch drama of the week every Monday morning.

When former commissioner Rick James was on the commission, Johnson had a kindred spirit who would side with him on the issues.

But that changed a year ago in November when Jason Hightower was elected to replace James. With Hightower’s election came a different attitude toward county government.

While still conservative, both Hightower and incumbent Commissioner Danny McCullough bring a more progressive outlook to county business. The two would appear to believe that the role of county government is to help make their constituents’ lives better.

The same cannot be said for Johnson.

On Monday, Oct. 2, Johnson revived his argument that Jessica Hightower should resign her post as economic development director/assistant public works administrator because her spouse, Jason Hightower was elected to the county commission.

Specifically, he complained that Public Works Administrator Shaun West would give an employee evaluation to the wife of one of his three bosses. What he didn’t verbalize was his apparent fear the West would be under pressure to give Jessica a sterling evaluation whether she deserved it or not.

Frankly, anyone who has paid attention to county government would know that Jessica Hightower has done outstanding work for the county. Her work for the past few years in her initial post as economic development director eclipses more than two decades of production by her predecessor.

When West had a disabling injury a few months ago, Jessica Hightower stepped up to keep the Public Works Department on track and maintain communication between West and the county commission.

Similarly, Jason Hightower has taken his role as commissioner seriously, taking time to research the workings of the county, visiting senior centers, maintenance shops, county departments and meeting the heads of the peripheral organizations the county does business with, such as Tri-Ko.

Johnson, on the other hand, during his nearly three years in office has not done nearly as much to learn firsthand about the county business. Instead, he relies on what he says are “multiple calls,” that direct his action on issues. That in itself is curious, because of the three commissioners, only Johnson does not have a phone contact number on the county’s website.

In an August meeting, Johnson complained that ever since Rick James left, the way the county is being run is different. And he apparently is not comfortable with the change. He also noted that voters in his district and in commission Chair Danny McCullough’s district didn’t vote to make Jessica and Jason Hightower the power couple in Linn County politics.

He’s right, of course. The voters in District 1 voted to elect Jason Hightower to the commission post, with most of them knowing that his wife was an administrator in the county. He was chosen by the Republican base in the primary and was confirmed by all the voters in the district during the November general election.

Johnson charges that Jason Hightower’s election disrupted the flow of the county’s business, but in most cases it is Johnson who has interrupted the flow. When he latches onto something he sees as a problem, he can’t let go. The school resource officer program, the health department, and now nepotism, Johnson has yet to learn that when the vote doesn’t go your way, you move on.

And that gets to the heart of his concern. He is usually odd man out on many of the votes that the commissioners make.

Instead of the commission being the place where old men grumble about taxes and roads, the commission now has become the board with the power wielded by two younger men who are looking for what they can do to better serve the community.

It is a welcome change.

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