The saying that there is “a time and a place for everything” is one of those open-ended pronouncements that can serve any number of purposes. It can be a rebuttal, it can be a reprimand or it can even be a signal that the discussion will not precede any further than the point it is at right then and there with the speaker commandeering control of the situation. The tone of voice used is a sure indicator of the speaker's intended meaning, so those on the receiving end, especially spouses, are advised to keep their hearing finely tuned to avoid ill-fated discussions upon arrival home.
A form of “time and place” was used recently at the Union County freeholder candidates debate, with the word "debate" being used here loosely. Monitored by the League of Women Voters, the event could only be described as, well, uneventful. The debate was attended mostly by the party faithful and county employees who always manage to seat themselves as though they whispered to an usher, “the bride” or “the groom.” The freeholders also bused in patients in wheel chairs from the county-run Runnells Hospital. The audience members submit index cards with questions written on them and are usually allowed only one card. However, it looked to this observer as though there were more cards stacking up on the moderator’s table than then were attendees.
One question directed to the incumbents, Angel Estrada, Rick Proctor and Nancy Ward inquired if they would consider taking a cut in salary as an effort to relieve some of the strain on the residents' pocketbooks during these difficult and uncertain times. There was an initial silence from the participants as the moderator looked toward the freeholders, especially the senior member of the panel, for an answer. To her credit she did not back away from the question and pressed onward for an answer. Pulling himself together as if he realized that there was no escaping through a trapdoor in the floor, the long-time board member and chairman said, “I refuse to answer that question.” Judging by the audience reaction, especially on the bride’s side of the room, he quickly realized that that was not the time to exercise his right to take a pass on a question.
Freeholder Estrada soldiered on but actually made matters worse by saying, “that question does not belong here.” In an ill-fated attempt at damage control he went on to mutter something about lowering taxes and doing the job right, so in his opinion they deserved the salary that they get. Ward said that they were in line with other counties; that by the way is a story for another day. Proctor indicated he would gladly take a salary cut if it would save money for everyone, but his tone let the audience know that in his opinion, it would not — so don’t try. One candidate on the Republican side appeared to speak for the others saying that $30,000 is too much for a part time job.
Angel Estrada’s initial and then subsequent response to the question just begs for some follow-up probing. One has to question just where is the proper place and what is the proper time for the person who is footing the bill to ask a question regarding the compensation being paid for the job for which they are interviewing, particularly when it is the interviewee — not the interviewer — who controls the purse strings. Hope we are making sense here. It is worth mentioning that the question would not be answered at a freeholder meeting either, as Estrada would in all probability benignly smile in that way he has, nod his head and say, “Thank you for your comments.” To his credit unlike other freeholder chairs who would respond to every question with a canned, “this portion of the meeting is for comments only,” he does actually attempt to get answers to the simple and least controversial questions. However it is safe to say that a question of the type: “will you consider cutting your salary?” would probably go unanswered.
Though freeholder chairman Angel Estrada gave a half-hearted answer to the question when he was backed into a corner at the debate, we are still left wondering what his ideas are about proper times and places for candidates questions about their intentions once elected. Is the proper place at a street fair, a resident’s front porch, or in front of a post office? Estrada never really said, did he? And truth be told he probably never will.