Merriam-Webster defines "Coup d'Etat" as: "a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics; especially the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group." In "Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook," historian Edward Luttwak describes it as "the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder."
Dictators like Moammar Gadhafi use armed power to seize and retain control of the state. But, in America, coups are carried out not by generals, but by politicians and lawyers. One such overthrow was executed Tuesday night in Newton County as Commissioners Mort Ewing, Tim Fleming, and J.C. Henderson joined forces with County Attorney Tommy Craig and supposedly retiring John Middleton to strip the commission chair of powers granted by the county Charter. In one fell swoop, these men seized those powers and bestowed them upon Middleton, creating a new position reporting to the five commissioners.
I have no objection to the county manager form of government. It is a proven structure worthy of consideration. But, the actions led by Ewing and Craig, supported by Fleming, Henderson, and Middleton were a direct assault on the powers of a sitting chairman duly elected by the people of Newton County to serve a four-year term. Any change in form of government should only take effect once those elected under the current form have served their term. Such changes also should be made with public input, deliberation and a vote of the people. That approach was proposed by Commissioner Nancy Schulz and seconded by Commissioner Lanier Simms. But, the other three refused to consider or discuss that motion before slamming through their own. The premeditation and orchestration was sickeningly transparent.
Kathy Morgan was elected chairman in 2008 by more than 21,000 Newton County voters, while Ewing was put in office by just over 5,000. Craig and Middleton have never been elected by anyone. By 2010 U.S. Census figures, Morgan represents as chairman approximately 98,958 county residents. In District 1, Ewing represents only 20 percent of those residents. Combined with Fleming and Henderson, they collectively represent less than 52 percent. Effective Tuesday night, residents of Districts 2 and 3 (more than 48 percent of the county) have no say in the administrative oversight of the county. There was no bloodshed in this coup, but tears will long be shed over a shocking deathblow to democracy. When these men recite the Pledge of Allegiance to open the next commission meeting, excuse me if I puke in the corner.
From comments made Tuesday night, Ewing felt justified in his actions because he's lived here a long time and works hard. Fleming excused his behavior by saying he doesn't like the job Morgan is doing. And, Henderson gave no real explanation except that he can think for himself and people were mean to him. All three are telling us the end justifies any means. Democracy is a nice to have, so long as it produces the outcome they want. Given the chance to side with due diligence and letting the people decide, they passed for no other reason except they don't have to. When we reach the point our leaders do what's right only when the law makes them, then we are all in serious trouble. And, indeed, we are.
-- Maurice Carter