It was feeling pretty crowded in the woodshed last week in Grant County.
The County Court had called Sheriff Glenn Palmer in for some serious talk about his refusal to take on emergency management duties and failing to return the judge's phone calls. However, before the dust had settled, supporters of the sheriff had taken Judge Mark Webb and the Court to task for a range of perceived ills - everything from being arrogant to not solving the county's job drain. And the audience itself took a gentle jab from the judge for disliking government but still expecting government to solve their problems.
It was a lively discussion, perhaps too lively at times. There were a few personal barbs, insults taken and given, one veiled threat from an audience member, and a reference to "eggheaded intellectuals." As one observer wryly remarked, "Welcome to Grant County."
Along that line, an audience member at one point suggested that the judge hadn't lived here very long, a clear insinuation that a newcomer wouldn't understand how things should be done. For the record, Webb noted he's been here 30 years, which in Grant County time may still make him a newcomer. However, in his defense, he's not exactly a tourist - and his tenure isn't the point.
The real point even goes beyond whether the sheriff is able or willing to take on the emergency management responsibility. It may reflect more whether the Court and the sheriff can find a way to walk the talk when they both say they're willing to work together. The chill of recent correspondence and the heat of last week's meeting suggest that may be difficult. However, it's important that they make that effort now, because communications certainly won't get any easier in the event of an emergency.
It's important to note that despite the contentiousness at the meeting, there was some subtle movement. The sheriff, while still maintaining that hectic schedules prevent some communication, apologized to the judge for not returning one phone call. The judge apologized to an audience member for smiling in a way that was taken as a smirk. And the county, while not conceding its position, decided to have its legal counsel parse the law to see who's right on the responsibility for the emergency job. Let's see where these small steps will take us.
The acrimony of last week's meeting might not seem like much to build on, but at least it cleared the air. Hopefully, all concerned can take a deep breath and start focusing on ways to move ahead, talk to each other, and ensure that the county is protected in the event of an emergency.