“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.”
– Proverbs 10:9
Beebe Police Chief Wayne Ballew probably should have asked himself, “What would Andy do?”
It came to our attention Wednesday afternoon that Ballew had been ticketed last November for passing a stopped school bus. Someone had posted about it on social media that day after the case was transferred to White County District Court-Searcy Division, apparently at Ballew’s request to avoid favoritism accusations. (White County District Court-Beebe Division does not make its cases available online through court connect.)
Ballew made the favoritism remark in a statement he gave, after the ticket came to light, explaining what happened Nov. 17. Based on his account of the incident, it appears to have been accidental rather than any kind of intentional flaunting of the law. (In the body cam video, he says that he didn’t see the bus.) However, it would be easier to accept his explanation if it didn’t come more than two months after the fact. That kind of thing is what stirs up those looking for any kind of sign of a police cover-up or abuse of power.
Even though we would not normally write about a misdemeanor traffic offense, for which Ballew is set to go to court Feb. 9, when it involves a police chief breaking a law (intentionally or not) put in place to protect children, you’ve got to know that there is public interest in that.
Maybe someday public officials will understand that it is always best to get out in front of bad news. If Ballew had asked to speak before the Beebe City Council at its next meeting after his traffic violation, explaining what had happened, lauding his officer who ticketed him and even using it as an opportunity to raise awareness about passing stopped school buses, that would have shown his integrity and accountability.
(Awareness: A survey a few years back involving bus drivers in 227 school districts in Arkansas showed that 884 drivers illegally passed a bus in a single day. A national one-day survey of 100,000 bus drivers revealed 88,000 such decisions which endanger children getting on and off buses. From 2006-15, 102 children were killed when approaching or leaving a bus, and more than 400 in the past four decades, according to the Institute for Transportation Research and Education.)
Yes, there are some who would have roasted Ballew for illegally passing a bus no matter what, but they would have only the mistake to use against him and not the fact that the error was essentially concealed. Even if Ballew didn’t think that he was hiding anything, that’s how it appears, and any criticism he gets for that is deserved because he had plenty of opportunity to be honest and upfront about it before now.
Ballew was lauded last January for stopping a bank robbery, going into the bank without a gun drawn and coming out with the suspect. Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson referred to him then as “a modern-day Andy Griffith,” meaning Griffith’s character, Sheriff Andy Taylor, on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Even though Griffith’s character didn’t always tell the whole truth, resorting to so-called “white lies” many times, he was praised for his folksy wisdom, decency and overall honesty. If Sheriff Taylor did something wrong, he was going to come clean to the Mayberry townsfolk about it.
Of course, residents of the small fictional North Carolina community also were quick to forgive, which is a lesson for all of us when one of our public officials does make a mistake or error in judgment. However, we can’t forgive if what needs forgiving is withheld from us. And the longer it is withheld, the harder it is to forgive, knowing that the only reason the offense has come to light is because it was dragged there.
Public figures, especially those in leadership positions, have to understand that while they may be held to unfair standards, they need to go out of their way to appear above board, even with something they may consider a minor mistake.
As Sheriff Andy would say, “What’s small potatoes to some folks can be mighty important to others.” If Ballew is a modern-day Andy Griffith, it might do the police chief some good to learn from him.
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