· Episode 8 ·
Arthur Kane was Assistant Director of the Cottonwood County Road and Bridge Department. He’d been around a lot longer than the furniture and felt as worn out as the old carpet.
Kane was following up on a call he had received from the Sheriff’s Office. One of Kane’s people had contacted Emergency Dispatch and reported a theft in progress. The property allegedly being stolen was soil from a county ditch.
According to Patrol Captain McArdle, an R&B employee had caused law enforcement an unnecessary headache by initiating the inaccurate, if not prejudicial, phone call. McArdle, known as Mac, didn’t want any more false reports coming from R&B because understandably, people didn’t appreciate being falsely accused of criminal behavior.
Actually, Mac explained to Kane, his officers hadn’t accused anyone of anything. They were just investigating the call, doing their job. Since the alleged suspect turned out to be an Amish woman collecting her runaway garden soil, the whole response was one big fat farce, and it made the Sheriff’s Office look bad. Mac wanted to avoid any repeat occurrences.
Kane agreed with Mac. The unnecessary call created unnecessary drama.
Now, Kane was prepared to have a one-on-one conversation with Harley Beasley, the employee in question.
“But, it’s county soil!” explained Beasley. “State statute gives us the right to control that soil. What if everyone dug their own ditches? Put in their own culverts? You know what would happen. It would be chaotic! Our mission is to protect the roads by maintaining proper and effective drainage.”
Kane let him talk.
“The farmers already do their own thing. They ignore us. They tear down their fences so their gigantic equipment can plow, and plant, and harvest in our right of way! They fill up our ditches and make extra work for us. They don’t care. If they want to donate their soil to us, then it’s ours for the taking.”
Beasley wasn’t done.
“If I was farming, I’d stop tearing up the perimeter grasses. In my landscaping business, I help my customers conserve their soil and water.”
“And the Amish tear up our roads with their horses and tractors, and they don’t pay taxes, and it’s unsafe the way they carry their families to town in the back of trailers. They wouldn’t recognize a seat belt if they sat on one!”
Beasley finally stopped.
“So,” said Kane, “it’s accurate to say that you called Dispatch to report the Amish woman stealing soil from our county ditch?”
“That’s right, and I’d do it again,” replied Beasley. “I hope the Sheriff’s Office puts a stop to her stealing. I hope they threatened her with jail time. Boss, we need to be proactive on this. Things are going to hell all around us.”
Kane didn’t expect that Beasley would change his perspective, but he was going to explain things, and then give his subordinate a direct order. Any further concerns that Beasley had while on duty regarding county soil in county ditches would be directed to him, Kane, not to Emergency Communications or the Sheriff’s Office.
“Okay,” Kane said, “We don’t arrest people for planting crops in our ditches. We don’t arrest people for retrieving their garden soil after flooding. We have our procedures. We work with the County Counselor, and she sends out certified letters, and we schedule meetings with the offenders, and sometimes we even send out bills when landowners have created problems for us that we’ve had to correct. But these are procedures we handle without calling law enforcement. Understand?”
“I understand, but I don’t agree with this weak approach; we can do better,” responded Beasley.
“Follow county procedures and you’ll be all right,” said Kane.
“Let me respond to some of your complaints,” Kane continued. “I shouldn’t need to do this, but you’re a valuable employee; I want to give you a chance to look at this differently. You’ve probably heard this all before, but here’s my view on how we do our job.”
Now, it was Beasley who was quiet. “Hopefully, he’s listening,” thought Kane.
“Sure, farmers could make our job a lot easier. Sometimes I don’t know if they don’t know better or they just don’t care. I’ve seen them plant in our right-of-way and then be unable to harvest the crop due to the abrupt drop off. I’ve heard their complaints when we spray and kill their runaway crops. And, over the years, I know we’ve hauled away tons and tons of their blowing topsoil. That’s just the way it is. I have to keep reminding myself that most people aren’t criminals; they’re just doing the best they can do.”
“But, we have state statutes on our side,” said Beasley.
“And the Amish, by far, aren’t the problem. They don’t tear down their fences or ignore erosion. They rotate their crops. They, better than most, manage the soil. It’s in their blood. It’s who they are. And they understand that bigger isn’t necessarily better.
“I’ve heard you complain before about the Amish not paying taxes, and others have corrected you, so I have to wonder why you continue degrading them.”
“They don’t license their tractors or buggies,” said Beasley, “so they’re using our roads for free.”
“I don’t think Amish use the roads very much compared to the rest of us; it’s not like they’re taking a cross-country trip to Florida on a tractor. At least around here they have air in their tires, but true, they don’t pay an annual user fee for their tractors to operate on the highway for when they go shopping or to market their products. If you think about it, the horse-and-buggy Amish don’t do much damage to our roads and they sure don’t contribute to air pollution like our motor vehicles.”
“What does air pollution have to do with roads?” asked Beasley.
“Hold on, I’m trying to give you a big picture to counter your bias attitude.
“As I was saying, Amish pay local, state, and federal taxes. They pay income taxes, real estate taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, inheritance taxes, and capital-gains taxes. I know they don’t pay Social Security, but they don’t use it. And many of them pay taxes for public schools but will never send their children to one. Instead, they usually pay their own private elementary school teachers to instruct their children on the basics. You could say the Amish pay twice as much as others for their children’s elementary education.”
“That’s their choice,” said Beasley, not persuaded, “they could go to public school.”
“Speaking of choice,” said Kane, “the Amish have made a choice to be separate from us when it comes to their religion and culture. It’s called freedom of religion.”
“I’m in favor of freedom of religion. Who could be against that?” asked Beasley.
“I figured you’d be for it because I know you’re active with your church.”
“But we pay our taxes.”
“You do? If you look into it, you’ll see your church doesn’t pay income tax. It probably gets other breaks under the federal tax law, too.”
“So, we should just let everyone tear up our roads and ditches?” challenged Beasley.
“I didn’t say that, and you know it’s not what I think. We have limits on what we can do. We do our best. That’s what I expect out of you. Starting today, right now, I expect you to contact me whenever you have an urge to call law enforcement and complain about people tearing up our ditches or roads.
“There’s no wiggle room on this, Harley. This is how we operate. We have our procedures and you need to follow them like everyone else. I won’t give you preferential treatment when I hold everyone else accountable for their actions. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, I understand,” said Beasley, looking down at his hands, no longer challenging his boss.
“Good, I’ll get a letter of understanding for you to sign so we won’t be having this same conversation down the road.”
Beasley’s eyes shot up and stared at Kane. “I don’t need another letter in my file, I understand,” said Beasley.
“Harley, remember what I just said about procedure. This is the county procedure. Now get back to work and make me proud. Just leave the farmers and the Amish to me. That’s not your job. It’s mine.
“Go on, get out of here.”
To be continued.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!