Conway yet to be politically corrected

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By Ben Carlson

When God was passing out guts, Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway apparently snuck back in line for a second helping.
I’ve attended public meetings for more years than I care to recall and can’t think if a single time I’ve watched an elected official act as brazenly as Conway did during last week’s board of health meeting.
Conway, who serves on the board of health, didn’t say much but left no doubt his opinion of health director Brandon Hurley. In front of the state’s highest-ranking public health official and his peers on the health board, Conway twice called for Hurley to resign. He stopped just short of making a motion to fire him — a motion that, given the public’s sour mood, may well have passed.
Those who think Conway calling for the embattled director to resign is no big deal don’t regularly attend pubic meetings. Terse comments and harsh remarks are generally the province of the public; elected and appointed types rarely if ever say anything controversial, let alone launch an assault that includes calling for an employee to resign.
It would be easy to argue that Conway was simply kicking Hurley when he was down. Long before Conway called for his resignation, Hurley had already weathered attacks from the audience.
It would also be easy to assume that Hurley’s demonstrable lack of respect for Conway earlier in the meeting played a role. Dr. Steve Davis, the state’s acting commissioner of public health, was busy boring the crowd with the panolpy of reasons people visit health departments statewide when Conway interrupted and asked him to localize those figures.
Hurley piped up told Conway that those numbers are available in the orientation packet he received when he joined health board in January, and that he could find that information there.
I about swallowed my tongue.
In essence, he told Conway to “go look it up” rather than answer the question, a remarkable lack of respect and a decidedly poor idea. To his credit, Conway let that slide for the moment and allowed Davis to drone away with his presentation, but boy, was he fuming.
From my seat behind him, I needed nothing more than to watch Conway’s ears literally turn purple to gauge just how angry he was.
And here’s why. That little episode, Conway said after the meeting, simply adds to the growing list of times Hurley has ignored his requests for information.
Although he said as much when calling for his resignation, Conway reiterated following the meeting that he and other board members have asked for profit and loss statements, data on accounts receivable and other financial information they need to help solve the department’s financial crisis, but have yet to receive a thing.
In another conversation, Conway told me has asked several times for Hurley’s payroll information and employment contract, and has yet to receive those, either.
If those were the only problems Conway has with Hurley, he might have held his water during last week’s meeting and given Hurley yet another chance to produce.
But in my view what’s really under Conway’s skin goes well beyond being disrespected, disliked or just plain dissed. Chalk it up to cornball politicking if you choose, but when Conway campaigned for judge-executive, his mantra of “wearing his heart on his sleeve for Anderson County” was something he meant every time he said it.
Conway’s bottom line isn’t complicated, nor does it take a PhD to understand. If he thinks someone is trying to short-sheet Anderson County, he bristles like the hair on an angry dog’s neck and stands ready (figuratively, at least) to fistfight or footrace if need be.
That stiff-jawed rigidity is considered antiquated by those who fancy themselves politically correct and require politicians to swallow their core values for the sake of compromise.
Anderson County has been compromised enough, thank you, and it’s good to know that the person in charge hasn’t been politically corrected enough to allow that to continue.