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Readers Respond

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Put Patton back to work - on teen drinking issues

To The Editor,

My friend Fats asked me the other day what I thought about the Patton Matter [Dave Patton was recently fired as assistant county attorney after charges relating to alleged underage drinking at a party at his home]. I told him I would read all about it - so I did. I think his former boss handled the matter OK.

First, he didn't state anything about a "Zero Tolerance" policy, or the like, which is good - because such statements only tend to take away discretionary thinking, which is why we need more of, not less of, right now. Secondly, Havens premised his termination on the way Patton handled his request for a response (which Patton was silent about). At first blush, it sounds like Havens was more reasonable than Patton in the handling of these things.

But Havens the boss would not have had the right to review the police reports had he not been the county prosecutor and maybe there is an interjurisdictional violation here - at least Havens sounds like he is prejudging the mater - and public opinion certainly has been set by his pre-trial statements as well. And Havens should know what Patton would be risking prejudicing both his criminal and possibly ethical future by making any statement right now to anyone. (Which is why I think the handling was only OK).

Then I thought I would state how I would handle the matter if I were Patton. I would say that my son who is going off to war in Iraq, asked if he could bid his friends farewell with a going away party. I would say that I asked him if there would be any alcohol at the party and my son told me if I am trusting him to carry weapons of war I must start to trust him to use discretion at a party and to please let him be independent for the last party he might have with his friends.

Then I would recall that when I was his age, I was facing a draft and induction into an army and a war in Viet Nam and I as ruing the fact I might carry a gun without having been allowed a drink even beer.

I would state that I told my son if I could count on him to avoid overindulgence and especially to avoid any risky driving on anyone's part, I would grant him is independence, especially since I knew that I might never see him again and his friends might also never see him again, after he goes off to war and all.

I would then state that I was silent in response [to Havens], specifically because of how the court system would frown on my stating as fact, anything that transpired that night... I, my son and all his friends must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that anything stated now to anyone in my own defense may well prejudice another pursuance case, etc.

[I would say that] Havens should be ashamed to have used my silence as some sort of admission of some sort of guilt...

I think we, as a public, should take the opinion that the real problem here is the matter of teen (underage) drinking and DRIVING an automobile, which didn't start with Patton's party and it won't STOP with Pattons' termination and Pattons' and others' prosecution of activity that night. And since we all have already judged him guilty by the review and floss that Havens put on the matter in the press... the public trust would be better served to force Dave Patton to go back to work as Assistant County Attorney with a special sentence to enact - in 80 days or less, to create a Safe Rider Program for this county, and to fully publicize same, and to recruit volunteers willing to take calls and give rides to any underage driver who drinks, and yet thinks to not drive a car intoxicated. This way we can avoid the real danger and damage - drinking and driving (maybe adults need this too?).

You see, once long, a King named Xerxes that won a war with a Phoenician named Hippo (ancestor to Hannibal of Carthage), instead of impaling him on the spot sentenced to him to try to sail a ship around the horn of Africa and to come up the other way. He agreed to spare his life if he was successful in stretching the known boundaries of the world (a worthy goal for society at the time and an apparently good use of talent). Hippo wasn't successful, and he was impaled. The moral of the story here? Give Dave Patton a big goal to achieve. If he doesn't deliver the goods - then fire him, dig? In the meantime he could help train the newcomer to the county attorney's staff, and he might even succeed and give a good start to a good program. The Safe Rides programs that are fully operational cut down on teen accidents and DWI's.

And this is much more logical use of mistake, if there was a mistake. Let's make a good thing develop from a bad scene for a change - and before we see some kids killed by drunk driving.

This is what started Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD). A mother of a lost child got mad and did something positive with her anger. But here is the other moral - If you give Dave Patton the challenge, don't hobble him with an unrealistic budget, let him have some real courtroom time so he can both publicized the program and divert DWI convictions to volunteerism in his program. That way the same carrot we offer him can be used to develop other safe(r) rides.etc. I think there maybe about 38 potential drivers at his house that night that they might set up a pretty good network of night shifts for awhile, if you get my drift?

And let's get Dave Patton back to work before this matter starts costing taxpayer money for nothing. Any county budget should go to support the start of the Safe Ride program rather than to some litigation costs in the Havens situation court cases.

What do you think, Mr. Havens and Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors? Whatever you decide to do, do it now, not after we see the next bloody highway fatality happen by teen drinking somewhere around our county.

- Paul Peterson, "The Outside Agitator," Storm Lake