Exhibit A on government mistrust

Published 11:43 am Saturday, September 15, 2012

Eighty-nine percent of Americans distrust government, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

Young Jon Mendenhall reminds us why.

Sixteen months after he was put on Southampton County’s payroll because the Board of Supervisors wanted to groom a potential successor to County Administrator Mike Johnson, Mendenhall is so uncommitted to Southampton County that he hasn’t even bothered to register his vehicle or sign up to vote.

As Managing Editor Gwen Albers reported in Friday’s edition, Mendenhall’s BMW is still registered in his native Trinity, N.C., some 3½ hours from Courtland.

Mendenhall’s Beemer sedan fits right in on Trinity’s Saddlebrook Drive, part of a ritzy waterfront subdivision where the streets bear names like Winners Circle and Steeplegate Drive.

But at Country Villa Apartments on Delaware Road, where Mendenhall now lives, a BMW sticks out like a pair of coveralls at White Tail Park.

As a proud former resident of Country Villa, I can attest. My former neighbors and I are Ford, Toyota, Honda and Chevrolet kind of people. Drive a BMW if you choose, but expect to be noticed. Especially if you’re driving one with out-of-state plates.

When a citizen brought it to our attention a month or so ago, we called Mendenhall, the assistant county administrator, for an explanation. He didn’t call us back. We kept calling. Still no response, so Albers investigated.

Mendenhall was undeterred. On Wednesday, he paid $100.83 in 2012 taxes to keep his BMW registered in Randolph County, N.C., even as he burns up the roads between Country Villa and Courtland.

Had he registered his vehicle in Virginia, as the law requires him to do, he would owe about $600 in personal property taxes to Southampton County — a county so desperate for money that supervisors recently socked residents with a $200 “garbage fee” just to make ends meet. The assistant county administrator apparently is not part of the shared sacrifice that county residents were told they must make in difficult fiscal times like these.

It should be noted that three of the supervisors who levied the garbage fee railed against the assistant administrator’s position when running for office last fall. They reminded voters that even Johnson didn’t want a lieutenant when the Board of Supervisors instructed him to fill the position anyway. The decision was symbolic, they said, of a county government that was fiscally out of control.

The three supervisors, who won their elections by convincing a small percentage of the electorate that county government was a complete mess, were so outraged that … Mendenhall remains on the payroll at $60,000-plus a year 8½ months after they took office.

Except for Supervisor Glenn Updike, who said Mendenhall’s out-of-state license plate is “common knowledge” among the “good ole boys” in county government, the universal response from the powers-that-be in Courtland was that they didn’t know the county’s second-in-command was breaking the law.

Now they do.

A cynical electorate will be watching closely to see what, if anything, they do about it.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.