Officials’ behavior an affront to the democratic process

At a moment when discourse in our nation seems to have reached an all-time low, along came Ron Clous and his rifle.

We, and probably many of the constituents Clous serves as a Grand Traverse County commissioner, had to do a double-take Jan. 20 as the elected official left view of his webcam during a livestreamed meeting and returned toting a gun. His actions — no words attached — were clearly a response to Keli MacIntosh, a county resident, as she implored the board to make a public gesture to distance itself from the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose members participated in the mob violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

In an adjacent screen, viewers watched as board Chairman Rob Hentschel caught an eyeful of Clous’ display and flung himself back in his chair for a good laugh.

He laughed.

Worse, both men were on the clock, doing the people’s business (duties for which they recently granted themselves a 72 percent raise). They were being asked to publicly denounce a group whose members played a role in an attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a group that has been called “extremist” by the FBI and labeled a hate group by multiple civil rights organizations.

Instead of taking the chance to condemn extremist behavior and beliefs, the two commissioners condoned, if not joined it with their actions.

Clous and Hentschel failed us at a time when they are paid to listen to our county residents’ concerns and weigh these opinions before making decisions on their behalf.

At best, Clous’ petulant, sophomoric, potentially threatening gesture was a wholesale dereliction of his duty as an elected representative. At worst, he violated the First Amendment rights of at least one of the people he was elected to serve by behaving in a manner that would intimidate her, discourage her from speaking freely in a petition to her government to redress a grievance.

Adding salt to a now-festering wound, neither man saw fit to address the error. Or apologize. In fact, Hentschel seemed to miss the point altogether, and continued to defend Clous’ behavior for days following the dismal display.

Hentschel instead recast the swelling wound caused by his comrade as some sort of “liberal” overreaction. When asked how he thinks people will perceive Clous’ actions supported by his affirmation, he replied “It says, ‘If you’re going to start trouble, don’t start it here.'”

Exactly which “here” is Hentschel talking about? The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners?

This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s an issue of American democratic values. And any elected representative who doesn’t understand the damage inflicted on our democratic processes by Clous’ behavior should step aside, because she or he is unfit to serve our community or any other.

At no point would we, or any well-thinking American, find it appropriate for an elected official to wield a gun in response to someone who criticizes her or his governance. That simply isn’t appropriate conduct from anyone selected to hold public office.

For his complete and utter failure to uphold the values represented in his oath of office, Ron Clous faces an upswell of calls for his immediate resignation. And for his gross lack of appropriate leadership, both during and after Clous’ petulance, Rob Hentschel has received similarly stiff backlash.

And we can’t help but agree with the throngs of their constituents seeking their ouster.

The conduct of our elected leaders while carrying out the duties of their office simply isn’t a partisan issue. We expect they will set aside inclinations toward immaturity and self-interested partisan posturing for just a few hours each week to serve their constituents.

That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Nor does it appear to be something Clous or Hentschel will deliver.


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