Editorial: Marietta Register

By this time, several days after the fact, readers that have been paying attention will be aware of the issue surrounding the exclusion of Neighbors for Clean Air from the annual Labor Day Parade. We at The Marietta Register, while not wishing to choose sides on the topic of Eramet vs Neighbors for Clean Air, still find ourselves deeply concerned about the issue of good governance that this case brings to light.

This issue, of course, is that the Parade and the County Fair are community events. They are designed to promote the Washington County community in a positive and team-building light as well as present our county to those tourists and other interested persons in the best possible manner. A ‘best foot forward’ sort of thing, if you will. This is a dead issue for this year, we’re afraid. The bad blood and bad feeling generated by the late-night decision of the fair board, in a vote which we are told was unanimous, to exclude a part of the community from the parade has done nothing more than divide what should be united: our home and community.

The fact that Fair Board President Steve Tornes is an Eramet employee (a fact that had to be developed independently as Mr. Tornes did not disclose such to reporters from The Marietta Register and local radio station WMOA during interviews about the event) and was taking that into account when making the decision to pull the plug on a group opposed to Eramet shows a clear conflict of interest on the part of Mr. Tournes. By acting not as Board President but as an employee of Eramet he has abrogated the responsibility he bears to represent the entire community in putting together the parade and the County Fair.

Or, to put it in another, clearer manner, we’re told that Eramet, as a sponsor of the County Fair, can place restrictions on who can and cannot participate in the parade. Well and good. But does that actually work in real life? Suppose, for example, that the Washington County Democratic Party were to be a sponsor of the fair next year. Would they then be permitted to prevent all Republican candidates for office from marching in the Fair? According to Mr. Tornes and the legal advisors of the Fair Board they would be well within their rights to force out ANY groups they found potentially objectionable - be they liberal or conservative, white or black, corporate or grass roots. That’s one hell of a way to run a parade.

Dissent is one of the fundamental aspects of the functioning of a democratic society. Here at the Marietta Register we’ve developed the policy of actively promoting dissent, even in our own paper. Several times over the last year people have come to us in strong disagreement with something we’ve written in our editorial section and we’ve allowed them to respond in print at our cost, as we feel it allows the community to better function with all sides getting their chance to shine. It’s a shame that Eramet and Mr. Tornes disagree. Instead, in their quest to silence disagreement they’ve shown their disregard for the community in which we hope that they consider themselves a part.

The real issue at hand is the apparent and real conflict of interest now created by Mr. Tornes decision to allow his day job to influence his decisions as President of the County Fair Board. It is clear that Mr. Tornes’ character is not of sufficient strength to deal with the conflict of interest he is presented with by his employment and his place on the Fair Board. To put this behind the County and to allow us to move on towards next year’s fair, Mr. Tornes should resign his position on the fair board and executives at Eramet and the County Commissioners should make clear to the citizens of the region that, going forward, the County Fair and Labor Day Parade will be able to go forward as the community building, non-partisan event that it should always have been.

Addendum: In the spirit of fairness, and because we remain unclear on to what extent Mr. Tornes’ actions were dictated by local Eramet decision makers, the editorial board of The Marietta Register invites Eramet executives to submit a response to this editorial of between 500 and 750 words. We feel that presenting this opportunity to allow Eramet executives to make clear their relationship with the County Fair Board would do a great deal to allow the community to begin healing.