Column by Jim Zachary

Jim Zachary 

Being in public office means you work for the public. 

It also means you answer to the public. 

You are paid with public dollars.

You must be accountable. 

Tax commissioner is a public office. 

Lowndes County Tax Commissioner Rodney Cain agreed to an interview with a reporter to answer questions regarding millions of dollars in fees and penalties his office has waived for some residents while declining to waive fees for others. 

He has the right to explain why.

He also has the obligation to explain why. 

After agreeing to an interview, he changed his mind the night before he was scheduled to sit down with a reporter.  The reporter had explained to him the purpose of the interview at the time — three days prior — and Cain agreed. 

Then, before even sitting down to discuss and explain, he abruptly changed his mind. 

Cain has, instead, been posting like crazy to Facebook during the past weeks. 

So, rather than an interview with a reporter where there can be an open — and fair — exchange with questions, answers and followup, our tax commissioner has opted to write long posts where he doesn't have to answer actual questions and be shown documents that beg for explanation. 

The newspaper was upfront with Cain, letting him know exactly why we were seeking the interview. 

He was told the narrow scope of the story that was not to include every accusation and investigation with his name attached to it. We were simply looking into the waiving of fees and penalties. The newspaper did its due diligence, made numerous public records requests, spoke with state and local officials, other tax commissioners and even investigative agencies, all in an effort to do complete and fair reporting. 

We believed — and still believe — it was only right for Cain to have the full opportunity to answer for himself. 

He refused. 

Avoiding the press is avoiding the public. 

It is easy, and disingenuous, to answer questions you ask yourself and to spin your own narrative. 

That's not public service. 

At the very least, all people who run for and are elected to public office must be open and transparent. 

That is probably nowhere more true than in the tax commissioner's office. 

The fiduciary duties of the office demand accountability. 

Tax commissioners are duty bound to collect millions of dollars that fund local government. It is an enormous responsibility that requires absolute trust.

Regardless of whether it was right or wrong for Cain to waive penalties and fees and regardless of whether he made those decisions in a fair and equitable manner, he should — at the very least — answer to the public. 

The people of Lowndes County deserve nothing less. 

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