06/28/04 — Unity: Its importance is shown in leaders’ initiative, but not always in oratory

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Unity: Its importance is shown in leaders’ initiative, but not always in oratory

Wayne County’s governmental leaders had a nice, peaceful time together last September, then another in February. The meetings were courteous and fruitful as everyone talked about the county’s problems and how they might work together to solve them.

It is unfortunate that our political leaders are not always as considerate of one another when they are in their separate board meetings as they are when the boards are meeting together.

The meetings in September and February were part of an initiative by the Board of County Commissioners. Along with the commissioners, it involves members of the Board of Education, the Goldsboro City Council and all the other town boards in Wayne.

The purpose is for all of those leaders to help identify and address the county’s most challenging issues.

One important issue is the recruiting and retention of good teachers in the public schools. For some time, the school board has asked the commissioners for money to raise the supplement that the county adds to wages that the state pays teachers. Some neighboring counties have higher supplements, which makes recruiting difficult.

The commissioners have been unable to find the money to allot specifically for the supplement in addition to the other money that they provided for the Board of Education.

This year, the school board renewed its request, but the response was different. The commissioners told the school board to raise the supplement from 3.5 percent to 6.5 percent. But they did not put up the money that was requested for that purpose.

The commissioners maintain that the school board has enough money to do it. School board members say they do not. Whether they do or don’t is not the issue here. The issue here is that the matter should have been discussed, in a professional and civil manner, before the commissioners surprised the school board with their demand.

There has been carping and finger-pointing between those two boards, along with the members of the Goldsboro City Council, for two or three years. These are people who profess devotion to the best interests of the community. Yet, their behavior is sometimes belligerent and, thereby, harmful to the county’s image, to its unity and to its progress.

Why? Sometimes they may be playing up to a particular group of voters. Sometimes they may be grandstanding for the television cameras at board meetings.

Sometimes — as may have been the commissioners’ attitude last week — they may simply feel that a direct, somewhat despotic approach to getting things done is the most efficient way, and that good relations don’t matter.

That approach might work for some people in private business, but it is poor public leadership. In the public arena, there are more consequences to consider before speaking. These include whether a comment might be unnecessarily divisive, whether it will advance or retard efforts for all branches of government to work together for the common good.

Reproach may be appropriate at times, but it should not be the starting point for discussion of an issue.

Published in Editorials on June 28, 2004 12:11 PM