I am not, and never have been, a Sullivan County commissioner

J. H. Osborne • Feb 23, 2020 at 3:37 PM

I am not a Sullivan County commissioner. I am not an elected official of any kind. My only foray into elected office was in college, when I won election three years in a row to serve as a senator on East Tennessee State University’s Student Government Association.

If you’re wondering why I felt compelled to clarify my non-connection to local elected office, it’s because of a letter I received here at work last week. I guess I better clarify “work.” I am solely employed by the Kingsport Times News, a private, local, family-owned business.

The handwritten letter (in not-neat cursive on a page torn from a yellow legal pad) arrived folded to fit in a small envelope. No return address. No name. Signed instead “An outraged taxpayer.”

Even in today’s technology-driven world, where emails and text messages and social media comments often are the go-to choice for communicating one’s feedback, opinion and, yes, outrage, we here at the Times News still receive a good amount of handwritten correspondence via the U.S. Postal Service. Since I began writing a personal column (that’s what this is that you’re reading) I have been humbled to receive a good amount of cards, notes and letters of encouragement, thanks and appreciation from Times News readers. That’s what the small envelope looked to be when I saw it in my newsroom mail basket.

It wasn’t.

I had carried it into my boss’s office as I was opening it, and as soon as the yellow legal pad became visible, we both said “uh-oh” almost simultaneously. Letters on yellow legal pad usually aren’t upbeat pleasantries. I unfolded it and began to read it to myself. And belly-laughed aloud with the first sentence: “I understand that you are also a Sullivan County Commissioner, where you are vastly overpaid.”

The boss asked what was so funny and to please read it aloud. We both laughed heartily briefly. Then the same thought hit us. It was actually sad if the writer so misunderstands the situation.

From the letter:

“You are always writing about your family and all the trips you are constantly taking. I am sure I am not the only taxpayer in this county that are wondering how much taxpayer gas and other money are being used to pay for all these trips. You need to address this issue because I have seen somethings that reeks of something wrong from Bill Lee to you all up there at Blountville. Are you ever up there at any of those meetings earning any of that money that you are being paid. Just another reason not to vote Republican.”

Bless his or her heart.

To him or her — and any other concerned taxpayers — the trips I write about are not funded in any way by county tax dollars. And none of my travels are the fault of the Republicans, except for my mother and various other family members. If you read my columns regularly, I hope I’ve made clear that many of my trips are only possible because I have very generous family and friends who often provide lodging and dining and Disney tickets. I think it is, overall, a bipartisan effort to keep me on the road. If you want to know my own voting record, go pull it. It is public information — as is yours.

As for “outraged taxpayer’s” confusion over my lot in life, I can only guess that maybe he or she is confused by the little blurb you will see below this, and all of my columns. It’s supposed to be a short description of my job. I’m going to ask that it be edited.

J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at josborne@timesnews.net.