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opinion opinion/columns phil-latham

Latham: Life way, way, way east of Eden

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Looking at the Google Earth view of East Mountain the city has on its Internet home page, you have to wonder what it is about that place that would make one willing to break the law — or even tiptoe on the edge of legality — to be its Big Cheese.

It's not that East Mountain is unattractive and I'm sure the vast majority of people who live there (well less than a thousand) are great folks. Still, there aren't any buried chests of doubloons just waiting to be uncovered, no gold mines, no fountain of youth. It's just a regular town in East Texas, or should be.

But the pungency coming from the tiny city is suggestive of ripening Roquefort or something else of an organic nature. If you're passing through East Mountain don't inhale too deeply.

I began hearing about the shenanigans in East Mountain about 37 minutes after I arrived in Longview and the steady stream of events there has been flowing ever since.

The primary (but by no means only) issue is whether Betty Davis — not the actress with the smoldering eyes but the East Mountain city administrator-cum-police chief packing heat — can legally have two different jobs at the same city, each earning a salary.

And, oh yeah, she's also her own supervisor who can fire herself. But I'm guessing the worst mark on her personal record is a stern talking-to in the mirror on the wall.

Do we really have to seek an opinion from the Texas Attorney General's Office to determine this is improper? For that matter, even if it can be somehow hogtied and convoluted into legality, do the people of East Mountain think this is any way to operate?

I can't answer that last question but the town's council surely seems unfazed by it all. If members believed it was untoward we have to assume they would take action to change it. It appears they have done no such thing and do not appear to be on the cusp of doing so.

Even if they refuse to see it, though, it is wrong. There's no gray matter here to wrangle over. Any thinking person will see it for what it is instantly. Plenty of thinking people live in East Mountain and a number have spoken out, and a number of them just don't give a hang.

Then there are those who'd rather not make themselves a target for the police department. I've always been suspicious of those who told me the police in East Mountain — five officers in an itty-bitty town — target those who make waves. It sounds much more like paranoia.

It is tough to speak truth to power, though, especially when you are just a citizen talking to the police chief. So if Davis is able to get a few extra dollars from taxpayers for doing the two jobs at once, some will not care enough to take their chances. It is difficult to blame them.

The city administrator — that would be Betty Davis — also is refusing to release records the attorney general has deemed to be public. If this were a criminal violation you could have Davis being required to arrest herself. That would make a good picture.

East Mountain is way, way, way east of Eden but you would think there would be enough people in town who would have enough intestinal fortitude to stand up and stop the foolishness.

From the current evidence, though, that seems too much to hope for.

But who cares, as long as traffic violators get their just desserts. There are well-posted speed limits throughout town.

No sign limits the flow of government corruption, though. With Davis as crème-de-la-chief it probably wouldn't matter anyway.

Phil Latham is editor emeritus of the News-Journal. His column appears Wednesday. Email platham@news-journal.com

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Today's Bible verse

TODAY’S BIBLE VERSE

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Philippians 2:3-4

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