Murray Bishoff: Cassville is the benefactor of Monett's political apathy

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It's a long way between Monett and Cassville, a distance that seems to vary depending on the topic. When it comes to politics, the precipice between the two cities hangs mighty wide.

Bishoff

Some relationships are so sensible that mutual benefit spans the gap. Take the partnership between the Cassville, Shell Knob and Monett Chambers of Commerce over tourism. Everybody benefits from more sales tax that comes from more traffic to the area.

The ballot for the Aug. 2 primary election underlines just how far the political gap can spread. Barry County residents in Monett will choose candidates for five positions. There are 13 people on the ballot: seven running for sheriff, three for public administrator, and one each for northern commissioner, assessor and coroner.

None of the candidates are from Monett.

Presently, there is only one county official, Prosecutor Amy Boxx, who is from Monett, plus required representation on the 911 board.

It's taken some time to see Monett's presence on the county's stage dwindle to such a sad state.

It's not that Monettans can't get elected. William H. Pinnell alone served as a one-man pillar holding up Monett's reputation as county prosecutor from 1950 to 1960, and as presiding circuit court judge from 1968 to 1994. The judicial bench held many Monettans: J. Edward Sweeney, Michael Garrett, Carr Woods and Victor Head in just the last two decades. Boxx dominated a three-way prosecutor race with 62 percent of the vote only two years ago.

Monettans have run for sheriff, but not lately. Of the seven candidates, none are from Monett -- despite Monett having 16 police officers, none of whom chose to file. Of course, not all of them live in Barry County.

We will see deputies in Monett if the occasion arises. If there's somebody with a gun running around town, SWAT teams with military-level firepower will surface; another relationship of mutual benefit. But since deputies spend most their time south of Midway, Monett officers may find themselves satisfied not working in that arena and see no attraction in the sheriff's job.

Such may also be the case in the uncontested races for northern commissioner, assessor and coroner. The end result, however, is the same.

Simply put, Monett cannot have significant influence in county politics if no one from Monett will run for countywide office. The decline in influence follows the lack of local candidates.

Consequently, Monett leaders periodically complain about a lack of sympathy toward Monett's interests on the county level. They wonder why people out in the county may even think Monett is holding them down, because some county leaders have done nothing to stem the perception. There's a reason the fire chiefs thought -- and may still think -- that Monett was trying to keep them from having a 911 system. Road districts leaders thought -- and may still think -- that Monett is taking money taken out of their pocket to pay for Monett's TIF, because of the odd way the county keeps its accounting system to this day. They don't understand that 45 percent of the sales tax for the county comes to them because of Monett's economic engine, and when Monett succeeds, they succeed.

It's almost as if Monettans have chosen to wash their hands of the county. Political leaders in Cassville have benefitted from the lack of resistance. That could change if Monett chooses to get back in the game.

There are three big voting blocks in the county today: Monett, Cassville and Shell Knob. Each has a rural perimeter that tends to vote the same way, but not always. A candidate who carries two of the three usually wins. If a Monett candidate does not engage the people in those other communities, or does not want to, then Monett, by extension, will have little influence countywide. Monett leaders may want to consider the consequences of withdrawing from the Big Picture, or look to the Chamber as a model -- a relationship where everyone benefits so well that geography doesn't matter.

It's two very different roads to travel.

Murray Bishoff is the news editor of The Monett Times and a frequent Cassville Democrat contributor.