Saturday, July 9, 2011

Diffle County Report: Jim Lackey Loses an Election

If you've never lived in Diffle County or her Southern sister, Nother County, you might not be able to fully understand how their political systems operate.  If you have lived in either county, you already know you don't want to understand. You just want your roads plowed in the winter and potholes fixed in the Spring- and no new Ordinances.

Diffle County is located in Eastern Pennsylvania, near the border with New Jersey, close enough to the Delaware River that you can smell the sewer outfall pipe from East Greenville's sewage treatment plant. There are three elected County Commissioners, no major cities, six townships, and three boroughs and several unincorporated villages.  

The townships are responsible for plowing local roads in the winter, then fixing the winter road damage in Spring and Summer.  Each township is governed by three elected supervisors. Each Borough is governed by an elected Town Council and Mayor.  The Council conducts the daily business while the Mayor waves from Miss Bettie's Chevy Convertible in the Memorial Day parade.  

Sometimes the Mayor casts the tie-breaker vote when Council is deadlocked.  Otherwise, the Mayor has no real power whatsoever.  It is a common fact that Town Councils rarely need a tiebreaker. Government is run by majority vote, and voters elect majorities. Yet everyone wants to be Mayor.  The reason why is simple and sweet.

Just like Senators and Presidents, once you are elected Mayor, people call you Mayor for the rest of your life- even if you only serve one term. When you die, your title gets all the attention in the local newspaper. For example,  "Former Mayor Dies of Heart Attack"  could be your death headline and the obituary might read "Mayor Paul Pounders, Age 78".  This is cool to some people- even a dead big fish in a small pond is still a big fish.   

But local government doesn't actually operate as described above. Over in Lincoln Township, Jim Lackey, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, ran his township with an iron fist for over twenty years.  His friends got their projects approved, his enemies got violation notices from the Zoning Officer.  If you wanted to build a house there, you used a local builder from Lincoln Township.  To do otherwise could be costly.  Incomplete design reviews, surprise inspections, and Stop Work Orders were common for those who didn't meet with Uncle Jimmy before choosing their builder.

Finally, a local tomato farmer, fed up with the abuse of power, and also angry that Uncle Jimmy made fun of his wife at a public meeting, decided to challenge  Lackey in the general election. Chairman Lackey was unconcerned.  Chuck "Tomatoad" Tody could win the primary unopposed, but had no strong support base for the general election. Since announcing his candidacy, "Tomatoad" noticed a significant drop in sales at his fruit and vegetable stand on Kidder Road.  Lackey supporters were sending a message.  

Besides, Jim Lackey was busy with the art of governance. Scott Reynolds, a young developer from Harrisburg, wanted to build a small shopping center in Lincoln Township. He wanted to do this legally, without making a cash contribution to Uncle Jimmy's private bank account. This type of upstart behavior was unacceptable.  

Lincoln Township had several issues with the Reynolds Site Plan. Month after month, modifications were denied and the plan was tabled. The common consensus was the Reynolds Shopping Center would never get approved by Uncle Jimmy and Lincoln Township. Some folks grumbled about this, since the township really needed a larger grocery store.  Lackey argued publicly that the shopping center was exactly the kind of growth the Lincoln township didn't need.  Privately, he urged Scott Reynolds to make the required "smooth sailing" payment and avoid further costly delays. Cash in a plain brown envelope, please.     

Since local folks pay little attention to elected officials in Harrisburg, no one in Lincoln Township thought to compare two identical last names. Could Scott Reynolds might somehow be related to State Attorney General Roland Reynolds? In reality, they were father and son and that's a game changer.   

Jim Lackey would have won the election, had he not driven away from the Smithville Inn, firmly planted behind the wheel of his brand new Ford Explorer. Every Friday evening, Uncle Jimmy would drive to the Smithville Inn, enjoy dinner and libations (mostly libations), and then leave the bar from the rear entrance, returning home via Smith Road  (T-0224). 

This back-road journey was an easy-peasy two mile drive and the very same road Uncle Jimmy plowed every winter for Lincoln Township. Jimmy could drive this route blindfolded, drunk, and drugged, with one arm tied behind his back, and a black bear tearing up the upholstery in the back seat. 

At the Reynolds Annual Labor Day Cookout, Scott and his dad had a long talk about Jim Lackey. Roland had high aspirations. He wanted to be Governor one day. He wanted to campaign as an aggressive prosecutor of fraud, white collar crime, and political oppression.  The rise of the Reynolds kingdom could be partially built upon the ruins of  a Lackey fiefdom.  The Attorney General made a few phone calls.

On the Friday  night before the general election, about a half-mile from the Smithville Inn, on a desolate stretch of Township Road No. 0224, the State Police set up a sobriety checkpoint.  For the first three hours, only two cars passed through. Around 9 pm, Jim Lackey's Ford Explorer approached the checkpoint from the opposite side of the center line.

Uncle Jimmy drove right past the State Police officers, smiling and waving.   He failed to notice the photographer from the Diffle County Reporter snapping a picture of him waving off uniformed police officers as they jumped back to avoid getting struck by his SUV.   

The State Police pursued the Ford Explorer and arrested James Johnston Lackey at the entrance to his driveway.  The second photograph on the front page of the Diffle County Reporter was of Uncle Jimmy in handcuffs, bent over the front of State Police cruiser, his smiling, tomatoad face laying flat against the hood of the car.  

Charles Reginald Tody won the election in a landslide. He runs Lincoln Township with an iron fist.

Diffle County is a fictional place. All characters are fictional as well. Any resemblance to the hundreds of politicians I know is merely coincidental and meant to stay that way.

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