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Editorial: Is this best we can do?

By now, you know the theme: People are fed up with politics as usual, tired of the divisiveness, tired of our elected leaders’ seeming inability to solve problems, tired of the bickering and fingerpointing.
In fact, a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 24 percent of Americans think the nation is on the right track, and about 75 percent want the next president, whoever it may be, to take a much different tack from the current occupant of the White House. One wonders what the results would be if a similar poll were conducted in North Carolina. Are our various elected bodies committed to finding workable solutions that most people can live with ó or do they too often simply follow familiar blueprints and lock themselves into the same old boxes? Two ongoing controversies don’t offer much encouragement.
First, there’s the longrunning problem over overcrowding at the Rowan County jail. Things came to a head this week when the state’s top jail official delivered an ultimatum. Find a solution within 30 days or the state will lock down the lockup, John Harkins said. His comments sparked heated responses from commissioners who questioned whether the state was using Rowan as its whipping boy, when several other jails are also over capacity. Indeed, by what stretch of logic does shutting down a jail relieve overcrowding? Shutting down I-85 would also solve the Yadkin Bridge issue. Yet, hardly a week ago Commission Chairman Arnold Chamberlain mused that he almost wished a judge or the state would order the county to build a jail. What’s that old adage about being careful what you wish for? As the state’s representative, Harkins argued with some justification that Rowan has had ample time to address this problem and that the overcrowding raises serious safety concerns. From the county’s perspective, it hasn’t ignored the problem but isn’t eager to take on the financial burden of a new $35 million facility. Watching officials bicker and dither over this issue, the citizen on the sidelines can only wonder: Is this really how government is supposed to work? Is this the best we can do?
Controversy No. 2 concerns the annexation battle over the N.C. 150 corridor. Actually, it’s not just one battle. These skirmishes are erupting across the state, and they follow a predictable course. A municipality announces an involuntary annexation action. Residents rise up in rebellion. Increasingly, it ends up in court. In Rowan County, the stakes got higher when commissioners decided to hire an attorney to fight Salisbury’s plans, an action it has not taken in previous annexations. Salisbury, meanwhile, has taken a similarly hard line and trumpeted the call for allies, seeking to enlist the support of other towns and cities and their powerful lobbying arm, the League of Municipalities. This has quickly deterioriated into an “us” versus “them” fight, with people talking past one another rather than to one another. Cities say they’re following the state annexation law; opponents say the statute needs to be changed. At this point, the only sure winners will be the lawyers. Meanwhile, the citizen on the sidelines can only wonder: Is this really how government is supposed to work? Is this the best we can do?

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