Editor's opinion 

Looper: the Democrats hate him, and so does the GOP 

In steering his own course, Putnam County's assessor of property  
has to be careful he doesn't cut his own line 
Putnam Pit editor
 COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- It is hard to think of a bigger insult to Christians than having Putnam County Commissioner Richard Grogan invoking the Lord's name in a political free-for-all with Putnam County Assessor of Property Byron Looper.

What if Looper also invokes the Lord's name to oppose Grogan? Will those who respond to such an appeal to the Lord  then look for jacks or better?

This much is clear. The fight has drawn attention away from the issue of whether businessman Bob Hill owes back taxes.

Why is Grogan trying to help Hill avoid showing records?

In his statement in the local daily newspaper, Grogan said he only wanted to be a "peacemaker," and was "saddened" by the events. He said he held no malice for the assessor. Grogan said that even if Looper's figures were correct, which he said he doubts, the tax would be less than $300 a year.

The fight between Hill and Scott McCrary, Looper's employee, occurred as a group was departing a hearing before Chancellor Vernon Neal on whether Looper's subpoena of Hill's tax records was legal.

"I must pause to ask God what I'm learning through this experience," Grogan says in a statement issued after the fight in a Justice Center elevator. He quotes Romans  in his statement.

If you are beseaching God for help, Mr. Commissioner, let me help you learn this: You appear transparent and shallow. It looks like you owe someone a favor, and it is not to God.

To invoke God's name and recite biblical verse in this sleazy matter is saying, "Hey, look, I have a Bible, so trust me over the other guy even though the other guy is doing what he's supposed to do."  Taken further, it is saying, "Look, I have a Bible, so shut out anyone else because we Christians have to stick together against the devil."

Folks, how about this for a change: Make the correct choice based on the facts.

Let's look at this in a clear light. All the parties have warts.

While pounding the good book, Grogan has still not addressed the fact of the matter: Hill's Tangible Personal Property Schedule, received by Looper's office March 16, shows an increase vehicle value from prior years of $219,650, while his filings in prior years do not show he has been paying taxes on the property, according to public records on file in Looper's office.

Grogan said he was "convinced that everyone should pay their fairly assessed taxes," but he then says, "To the assessor, I say please lay this matter down and look at reason."

Okay, Mr. Grogan, let's look at reason, then we'll get to Hill and Looper.

You start your Bible beating for righteousness, claim to be for everyone paying taxes, then berate the man attempting to collect them. You say you are for peace, then continue to fight. These are the acts of what a former editor of mine called a "pompous blowhard," and to the extent that you use the Bible to further this seedy scenario, you appear to be thoroughly insincere.

According to the assessor's office, Hill owes nearly $1,900, not $300. That is a tax loss to the county of $1,392, and a loss to the city of $492.

"Someone does have a problem with math and it's not Mr. Looper," said Randall Gentry, a Looper aid.

Mr. Grogan, I have seen the tax statement Hill filed. It shows vehicles claimed for the first time in the "prior years" column. In my opinion, Looper would be remiss in his duties if he did not pursue the matter.

Commissioner Grogan, if we apply your principle to law enforcement, what should we do if someone robs city hall? Make them pay back 15 percent of what they stole, then let them go?

Now, Mr. Hill, why don't you just show your documents? If Looper's allegations are untrue,  then sue Looper for official misconduct or harassment. Everyone thinks there is something fishy, and the public records appear to show a problem. Maybe Looper has doctored the documents; maybe you owe money. But you owe it to Mr. Grogan to show that his railing is not a red herring. Only you can set it straight. What are you defending yourself from? If you are wrong, Grogan goes down with you, which will be a spectacular sight because of his self-righteous babbling.

Finally, Mr. Hill, do not make the mistake of supposing this issue will die down. Because public officials are involved, The Putnam Pit will pursue the matter longer than Uncle Sam's parade stilts.

Mr. Looper, you appear to have a style problem.

In Hill's case, if the documents are correct, you have a duty to pursue the matter outside the elevator.

Yet recognize that the way you are going about the conduct of your office reinforces concerns people have about your competence. Terry Dycus, who represents indigent criminal defendants in Public Defender David Brady's office, said he decided to not buy a 100-acre farm because he couldn't be sure you wouldn't come after him for some irrational reason.

That is, you have created a nervousness among the public.

There is little doubt that you have scared the hell out of the good ol' boyz, who, seeing you take down Billy Ripppetoe, your predecessor, at the ballot box, now see a new mortality in their own political lives. This is a good thing, because the public should not be governed by fools who think they are above the law.

And the public, Mr. Looper, is trying to figure whether you are baby or bath water.

People expect you to work. They don't want you attending law school on your public time, an accusation you respond to with "I refuse to confirm or deny . . . ."

You stand to make a great contribution to the community. But if you fail, you do a terrible injustice to those who gave you your chance.

Cookeville City Councilman Noble Cody said, Looper "knows what he's doing," and that "Byron's got a peculiar personality. But once you get to know him, he's a nice guy."

Cody, a Republican fund raiser and party loyalist, worked to keep Republicans who were disenchanted with Looper from jumping ship. "His enemies are my friends," Cody said.

"Looper was a Democrat in 1992, and the way he's going now, he's not good for the Republican Party. But I think he'll be fair to everybody, and if he stays within the law, he'll be okay," Cody added.

Otherwise, Looper better start beating the Bible like the other Good ol' Boyz and hope, like Grogan, that the public is too stupid to see through him.