Thumbs up, thumbs down: Public pressure leads Wayne DA to dismiss pet rescuer’s charges

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THUMBS UP to animal advocates and concerned citizens whose support for animal rescuer Tammie Hedges of Goldsboro led Wayne County District Attorney Matthew Delbridge to drop a dozen criminal charges against the Good Samaritan, who provided stray dogs with refuge as Hurricane Florence pounded eastern North Carolina.

In a needless bureaucratic bungle that stoked national outrage, the DA’s office slapped Hedges with 12 counts of practicing veterinary medicine without a license on Friday. Delbridge dismissed the charges Tuesday afternoon after more than 10,000 people signed an online petition opposing the heavy-handed move and legal luminaries cast his prosecution in a decidedly dim light.

George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin defended Hedges, explaining on fellow legal scholar Eugene Volokh’s blog that the case constitutes an abuse of discretion.

“In a society where there are so many laws that the government cannot possibly target more than a small proportion of violators, it seems wasteful to target Hedges,” Somin wrote. “A prosecutor who decided to pursue her should be admonished to ‘go fight some real crime.’”

Delbridge seemed to follow that script in his prepared statement, saying that dismissing the charges “will minimize further distraction from my core mission of protecting the public from violent crime and allow the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board to take whatever action they may deem appropriate.”

Leveling a veiled threat of regulatory penalties makes Delbridge look petty and spiteful. Hedges and her Crazy’s Claws N Paws volunteers say they only administered over-the-counter animal treatments, so they probably have nothing to fear.

Residents of Greene, Wayne and Lenoir counties should monitor their defiant DA carefully. If his embarrassing performance in this episode is repeated, it may be time to send him packing.

THUMBS DOWN to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, whose members voted to double their own pay this month with no input from the taxpayers to whom that money belongs.

Six of the seven commissioners received a 102 percent increase in his or her stipend, from $494.84 per month to an even $1,000. Board Chairman Jeff Carver’s monthly stipend saw a 64 percent boost, from $671.39 to $1,100.

Raises were approved during the board’s Sept. 4 meeting, and the matter of commissioners’ pay wasn’t on the agenda released roughly a week earlier because the county’s human resources director asked to address the stipends the day of the meeting.

The raises were calculated based on a regional compensation survey for commissioners in similarly sized counties. With Johnston far below its peers in pay for county elected officials and its ranking among North Carolina’s fastest-growing counties, this wouldn’t have been a tough sell for most residents. It’s the lack of transparency that bothers us.

All workers who want a raise — even high-powered CEOs, who are still accountable to boards of directors — have to ask their bosses first. County commissioners work for the public. Their failure to provide advance notice and an opportunity for comment is what we’d call insubordination.

THUMBS UP to St. John AME Zion Church in Wilson, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in a star-studded service this past Sunday. The first African-American AME Zion congregation in Wilson boasts a rich history and maintains a singular focus on service to its community.

Partnering with two other churches, St. John serves more than 24,000 meals to Wilson’s hungry each year. The congregation also provides a transitional house for homeless men and supports Save-A-Youth, an after-school program that serves more than 300 children.

The Rev. Michael Bell, St. John’s former pastor and a Wilson city councilman, said the church must be constant in “helping hurting people find hope in Christ, education, housing, employment and community development.”

It’s clear leaders and parishioners at St. John are doing just that. Congratulations on 150 years, and here’s to the next century and a half of making a difference in Wilson.