My Turn: Commission is just reflecting voters’ wishes
By Georgi GossA recent Salisbury Post editorial quoted a 2012 letter from then-Commission Chairman Chad Mitchell saying that the appropriated $6 million for a school system central office was unconditional.
Yet at the same meeting in which that vote was taken, it was made clear to the School Board that it should not expect to receive any more money and that what was to be built would be a truly consolidated office. The case could easily be made that “no strings attached” is not an accurate depiction of what the commissioners were offering. It seems silly now to say that the new commissioners are “copping out”; they did not vote for allocating the money with no strings attached, and they are doing exactly what voters elected them to do.
Typically, people who have a vested interest in something are the ones who show up and speak at school board and commissioners’ meetings. Few “ordinary citizens” voice their opinions in public outside the voting booth, so it skews the message of what is heard in the meetings. When the rooms are packed with people who have an interest in seeing something approved, it takes a lot of courage to stand up for an opposing viewpoint, especially knowing that they will be ridiculed by other elected officials and lambasted in the local newspaper. Frankly, most people do not want to subject themselves to that kind of treatment, so they steer clear of politics. It certainly isn’t a role for the meek.
Commissioners Mike Caskey and Craig Pierce have no “duty” to support a decision made by previous commissioners, especially considering they were elected specifically because they were opposed to it. Saying that such a duty exists would tie the hands of all future elected officials in attempting to change decisions made by their predecessors. Yet this is exactly the type of change that keeps publicly elected officials in touch with those they represent.
It seems unfair to impugn the character of these newly elected officials simply because they are trying to make a change. I don’t know any of them personally, but I’ve heard them speak, and I think they have the best interests of Rowan County’s populace at heart, including those in the school system. It isn’t necessary to agree with everything someone says in order to trust that they are acting on the basis of what they perceive to be in the best interests of all concerned.I believe that all participants in this saga — including voters and the new commissioners — want school employees to have a safe working environment and would prefer that the administrative offices be consolidated. But how this should be accomplished is, and should be, a matter of debate and comparative study. Instead, the School Board has for many years made it clear that it thinks there is only one acceptable place for consolidated offices. Now that the board has spent about $400,000 on plans, and has property donated from the city, board members are even more determined to proceed with that site. They feel committed, and the only way they will veer from the course they have set is if they are prevented from doing so.
Although it is no doubt disappointing to those who would personally benefit from the construction of the proposed office building, at least the commissioners sent a straight-forward message about not providing $6 million toward an over-budget building that they feel isn’t in the best interests of their constituents, including the students and staff members of the school system.
In a situation in which elected officials still considered themselves beholden to the people and still felt it necessary to follow the rules, School Board members would receive that message and act accordingly instead of trying to circumvent the commissioners and the people who elected them. If the School Board would follow the commissioners’ lead, they could proceed with another option and some other plans while the economy still makes building conditions favorable. Instead, having had the carrot dangled before them, they seem determined to follow it even if it takes us all over a cliff.Georgi Agner Goss is the founder of Salisbury Academy. “My Turn” submissions should be between 500 and 700 words. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org with “My Turn” in the subject line. Include name, address, phone number and a digital photo of yourself if possible.