Rein in the government bullies

by Jim Longworth

Earlier this year, state lawmakers introduced a bill that would require local school districts to stop bullies from terrorizing their victims. What they failed to do is introduce a bill that would extend that edict to local governing boards. That’s because bullies come in all sizes and ages, and the worst of them aren’t found on school grounds. Right now, for example, the biggest bully in Forsyth County is Commissioner Ted Kaplan.

He has bullied his fellow commissioners. He has bullied his colleagues on the Tourism Advisory Board. He has bullied TDA staff. And, most of all, he has bullied the president of the TDA, Bob McCoy.

Finally, after months of threats and abuse, McCoy has decided to take a medical leave of absence rather than endure one more moment of harassment by Kaplan.

McCoy who underwent a liver transplant less than two years ago, had bounced back from the operation and managed to bring millions of tourism dollars into Forsyth County. His 14-year record of administration is spotless, and his file is bulging with letters of thanks and support from all over the country.

But neither he nor his doctors ever imagined that McCoy would have to return to work and endure a barrage of bullying and harassment day in and day out. After all, why would anyone in his right mind attack him for doing a superb job? And why would any governing body or advisory board stand by and allow a bully to operate with a free hand?   

Kaplan’s motivations now seem to have been personal because as soon as McCoy announced the medical leave, Kaplan backed off his threats to seek an end to the local hotel occupancy tax which funds tourism marketing. Some insiders speculate that Kaplan will soon bully the TDA Board into naming a new president who will bow to his every wish. That would be a mistake.

In the meantime, Forsyth County Commissioner Walter Marshall is none too happy with possible abuses of power that have occurred, and could continue to occur. Following last week’s briefing session, the Winston-Salem Journal reported Marshall as saying that proposals for changing TDA’s operations should come from the authority’s board, and not one member (Kaplan) who is also a county commissioner. Said Marshall, “I don’t think we need elected officials sitting on [the TDA] board”.

Clearly, Kaplan’s recent strong-arm tactics were not only an abuse of power, but they unnecessarily stained the reputation of McCoy and his fine staff, and led to the TDA president having to take medical leave so that he could enjoy a much needed rest from the limelight.

At some point, though, Forsyth County and the TDA Board need to heed Marshall’s warning about abuses of power, and then act on them accordingly. A summit should be held between the commissioners and the TDA board and staff in which the goal would be to initiate reforms that would guard against the kind of one-man crusade that caused so much damage.  

The summit should be held immediately upon McCoy’s return to work, and the facilitator should be a neutral party who is well respected (Mayor Allen Joines, Sheriff Bill Schatzman, Winston-Salem State University Chancellor Donald Julian Reaves are possibilities).

Hopefully the joint gathering will prove cathartic for attendees, and result in their coming away with a unified purpose, which includes embracing Marshall’s concerns by removing all elected officials from the TDA board.

This would signal to Kaplan that his days of bullying are over, and that cooler heads can prevail.

If, however, the summit produces no results, and if county commissioners and TDA board members are still afraid to stand up to Kaplan, then the mayor should appoint a school resource officer to patrol the halls of government and expel anyone caught bullying.

Short of that, we’ll just wait for state legislators to pass an anti-bullying law.

I only hope they make it retro-active.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).