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From the beginning (the bungled 2012 referendum) to the present (Richland County Council’s vote last week to demand documents from the program contractor that both Council and the public should already have), the transportation penny program has been more of a plug nickel.

Indeed, the overriding question about the whole putrid, political public funds mess — from voting on it to implementing it — has been whether the penny tax debacle is a result of incompetence, corruption or both.

That’s not much of a choice for Richland County residents who pay the penny transportation tax every day on everything they buy, is it? But that’s the reality.

Incompetence, corruption or both? Maybe we should go ahead and adopt that as the county slogan.

Of course, we’ll never know whether the penny tax actually passed. The waits of up to six hours at polling places due to still mysterious circumstances of Election Day 2012 in Richland County compromised the vote.

However it happened, the result was way too few voting machines being distributed to certain precincts, resulting in unknown numbers of citizens giving up and walking away from the polls.

Those citizens were effectively disenfranchised, and a very close ballot initiative was decided without the votes they came to cast.

That’s one example of non-voting related to the penny tax, one that still infuriates the people who were caught up in it. But here are two recent news items that highlight another, and very different, kind of non-voting on the penny tax issue.

“Richland County Council has voted to move toward administering the often controversial penny tax program in-house, rather than having the program run by outside firms. … The tally to begin the transition came in a 6-1 vote.” — Free Times, March 6, 2019

But wait, doesn’t Richland County Council have 11 members? Indeed it does, and all 11 were present for the vote.

But four members simply sat there as the vote was taken, failing to do their jobs as elected representatives of the people by casting their vote on the matter at hand. And a very important, very costly, very controversial matter at that.

For the record, the non-voting deadbeats were: Paul Livingston, Gwen Kennedy, Yvonne McBride and Chip Jackson.

“Richland County Council has given the managers of its $1 billion road program a one-month deadline to turn over documents about their spending decisions.” — The State, Aug. 2, 2019

While the first part of that sounds good, the question remains: Why has all of that information not been provided to both Richland County Council and the public from day one? But that absurdity is not even my point.

This absurdity is: The tally again included voting deadbeats on County Council, members who were present but felt it was OK to ignore their duty.

Again, all 11 members were on hand. This time the tally was 8-1, with Gwen Kennedy and Jim Manning failing to vote.

Finally, prior to that vote there was an attempt to take discussion of the matter into closed session, excluding the public and the news media. Thankfully, that motion failed on a 5-5 tie vote.

Allison Terracio, who was present, was the non-voting deadbeat on that matter. As a new face on Council, it’s especially disappointing to see her take the no-vote, no-accountability road.

The question is, if elected officials are not going to cast votes, what is the point of them being elected officials?

Why did they run? Why do they come to meetings? Why don’t they have the courage to make a decision and represent their constituents when it comes time to vote?

I don’t know, but I do know if elected officials aren’t voting on matters that come before them, they’re just taking up space at the fancy council table.

While they may like sitting there and looking regal on the elevated dais, if they can’t decide what they think then perhaps they should move aside for someone who can. Or someone who can should move them aside.

Representative democracy requires representatives who actually represent their constituents with votes — not hide under their fancy table.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.

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