A couple of students at Ringgold High School were recently involved in an incident with Paul Lee, mayoral candidate for Ringgold, Ga. These boys thought it would be kind of cool to have an “Elect Paul Lee” sign to hang on their bedroom walls. Each boy took one (small) sign from different locations in town, not ever once even thinking about the consequences that would ensue. Mr. Lee was able to find out, with the help of the Ringgold City Police Department, who the boys were. They each took the signs back. Their parents were called by the school and the boys were made aware of the severity of their “crime.” None of us had any idea just how far this would go.
One of the boys is often made aware that 16-year-old boys don’t always make good decisions. Both of his granddads never tire of telling stories of their own bad decisions that were not well thought out. Fortunately, most of these stories end well. I have a story, though, that has caused our family concern, and we are all hoping for a good outcome.
Mr. Lee demanded a meeting with the boys and their parents so that he could give them an ultimatum. He wanted the boys to perform some act of community service.
Now, this is where the story takes a bad turn. Mr. Lee said he would not file misdemeanor charges against the boys if they would agree to stand on the street in Ringgold election day holding a VOTE FOR PAUL LEE sign. The parents were speechless. He would not accept any compromises to this idea of community service. The parents did not agree. They did not disagree. They had to think about the ultimatum they had been presented.
Normally, there would be no question. If these families lived in the city of Ringgold, they would vote for Mr. Millwood. They disagree with most things Mr. Lee stands for and they do not share his values. Strong-arming or bullying their 16-year-old sons into campaigning for a candidate they do not support seems extreme and is an example of Mr. Lee’s values, which they do not support. Mr. Lee was unrelenting.
Now, many lessons have been learned here. The boys stated, “We have never stolen anything in our lives and for some reason, we did not think of taking that sign as stealing — but it was.” They also admitted, “A lot of people have been impacted by this bad decision, especially our parents. We are learning to think of other people before acting.”
I wish Mr. Lee would rethink his ultimatum and allow our boys to do something that would not require them or their families to compromise their values. Forcing a 16-year-old boy to choose between participating in extracurricular school activities and being charged with a misdemeanor for not supporting this candidate is wrong. A person like Mr. Lee could help these young men learn some valuable life lessons by teaching rather than punishing. Yes, what they did was wrong, but it provides the perfect teaching moment. Mr. Lee is in a position to teach these young men lessons in respect for the voting process, respect for other people’s property and above all the importance of living a principled life. In other words, he could invest some time in their lives instead of resorting to strictly punitive measures. This kind of punishment for a “crime” of this nature serves one purpose, to make the one with power seem more powerful. It will only make these boys feel contempt for Mr. Lee.
Paul Lee used a similar tactic on Facebook recently where he posted, “If I am elected mayor of Ringgold save your I Voted stickers and I will go ahead and boost business with local downtown restaurants, as I will pick up 2 restaurants and buy everyone who voted and have their decal a FREE meal.” An alert citizen responded to his post by reminding him of Ga. Law 21-2-570: Any person who gives or receives, offers to give or receive, or participates in the giving or receiving of money or gifts for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate in any primary or election shall be guilty of a felony. Mr. Lee took down the post and apologized.
I am afraid Mr. Lee’s response to this situation is very telling and serves to show what kind of mayor he would be for our community. His plan is to make Ringgold Right. He is “embarrassed” by the state of our Police Department facility, he will “bring in” more restaurants and he wants to make us more like Ft. Oglethorpe. In addition, he plans to make our downtown more of a tourist attraction. While outlining his platform on “The Morning Show” I never heard him indicate how he plans to collaborate with civic organizations to determine what “Ringolians” want for Ringgold! You have to work with people, Mr. Lee. It can’t always be “my way or the highway.”