Let Them Eat Cake
Tom Jennings was all riled up. Against his doctor’s advice, he continued to watch the news, search for news, and read the newspaper. His blood pressure spiked at each sitting. News! The doctor had also told him to lose weight, cut down on fatty food, and to exercise. Until then, as long as the national news was so confrontational, so divisive, he should just read a good nonpolitical book or listen to elevator music.
As usual, Tom did what he wanted—selective listening. But today, his wife, Jesse, had been surprised to see him disappearing down their back-country road. Destination: newspaper tube. Rather than drive his monster truck, Tom and his neighbor’s dog, Bouncy, walked together.
Well, that really wasn’t true. The little Shih Tzu, in constant motion, was always in a hurry, ahead, looking back, urging Tom on during the half mile walk.
Once Tom held the newspaper, he was like an alcoholic in a bar during happy hour. He opened the skinny tabloid and read the local headlines like a news junkie off his meds.
The Cottonwood County Commissioners were considering cutting overtime pay for deputy sheriffs!
Tom flashed back to his early years in law enforcement when he worked in the hell hole they called the county lockup.
The jail was stifling. In mid-spring it was already hot. There were no windows to open, just steel walls guarding ancient stale air. Vents, designed for climate control, instead funneled water and sewage out of flooded cells from their deliberately backed-up toilets. And the buzzers, bells, pounding, and yelling were enough to wish deafness from the hearing.
Tom picked up his phone, said, “Call Cottonwood County Commission,” and waited. After being greeted he left a message requesting a return call.
He turned quickly to his only social media: Facebook. There he found a post about the controversial county meeting that had been held the previous day.
Tom read through the comments and recognized some of the contributors as local law enforcement. All the posts were supportive of the deputies with harsh comments about the county commissioners wasting time trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.
One was from a career Cottonwood County cop who said it seemed like there was always one commissioner trying to take something from the Sheriff’s Office. He continued: “We can’t just tell people, ‘sorry my shift is over. I’ll be back tomorrow or two days from now to help you with whatever you need.’”
Another person said: “Why doesn’t the commission concentrate on bigger issues? Trying to trim a budget that is already under budget should be the last thing on a very long list. Overtime for sheriff’s officers should continue for time worked after 80 hours in a pay period.”
Tom added his own thread: “If employees got paid for all the extra work they do, because they are dedicated, then there would be no need to have this conversation.”
He continued: “Safety isn’t important until it’s important. If officers have to be more concerned about leaving a crime scene than solving the crime, we’re all in deep dodo.”
A minute later, after reading additional comments, Jennings found himself typing on his keyboard about a department under attack: “Excellent people, potential hires, and newly hired, should have benefits that are not below average. Don’t punish the officers for choosing a career that helps people. If you want to attract below average officers, then offer them below average benefits.”
Another opinion flashed on the screen in reference to Commissioner Ethel Tither wanting to pay officers less: “She has no idea what being a full-time paid Law Enforcement Officer even does and the many personal sacrifices each of them make to the job.”
This commissioner, Tither, had used two officers as examples of receiving too much overtime, but she never mentioned the sacrifices those officers and their families had made to earn the money.
Ethel Tither never had an idea she didn’t like, and when she shared her idea she expected everyone to admire her brilliance. She was like Don Quixote who believed he was undoing wrongs and bringing justice to the world, fighting perceived enemies that, in reality, were only windmills. Like Don Quixote, Ethel Tither often resembled a homeless drum major without a marching band.
Jennings was getting excited! He typed away and said: “Don’t fall for the shock technique used by Tither. She took a couple of examples and tried to sell them as the average or median. That strategy is used in an attempt to sell something as a problem when it’s not. It’s a calculated technique of creating headlines, outrage, and division in order to draw support for a personal agenda. Some people feel good when they’re doing something, anything, even when it’s unnecessary. Example: rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic while it’s sinking.”
Jennings tried another strategy on Facebook in order to get feedback. He asked a question. “What’s it called when politicians do something ego-driven that’s not wise, not needed, and even counter-productive, but they do it anyways just because they can? Answer: a) misguided b) disrespectful c) abuse of power d) all of the above.
Finally, Jennings addressed the most outrageous comment by a commissioner at the meeting. Of course, Tither was responsible for being irresponsible.
“If the Cottonwood County News reported correctly on the county commission meeting, the saddest or most absurd comment was, ‘you choose your profession.’
“To tell anyone who has chosen a professional career that they should just accept a loss of benefits is asinine! Coal miners are told to just accept the benefits offered by the corporation when their lives are in constant danger. School teachers are told to work for less than a living wage.
“Why would the county commissioners push down and create a hostile work environment when they could be helping push up by promoting Cottonwood County as an awesome place to work?
“’You choose your profession,’ reminds me of French Queen Marie-Antoinette. When she was told that her starving peasant subjects had no bread, she supposedly replied, ‘Let them eat cake.’”
Tom’s phone played music and vibrated. He was about to talk to a county commissioner.
To be continued. Next up: “Cottonwood County: Unintended Consequences.”
Happy writing and reading!
This fictional story on Cottonwood County is based on fact (art imitates life), but the following information is real:
Patrick Rohrer, 35, and Theresa King, 44, both deputies with the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office (KS), were recently shot and killed on duty by an inmate. Condolences to their families and agency.