By David Rogers. December 23, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Here is a quick true or false quiz about what level of government affects citizens the most:
- TRUE or FALSE: A school board decision to install metal detectors at the local high school and all of the feeder middle schools more directly impacts my life than whether or not the President of the United States chooses to give military aid to the Ukraine.
- TRUE or FALSE: How much of a subsidy Congress votes to support soybean farmers is more important to my life than the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners voting to raise property taxes by three cents per $100 home valuation.
- TRUE or FALSE: Town Council deciding to renovate the American Legion Building and rent it for wedding receptions and other special events is less important to me personally than the U.S. House of Representatives voting to impeach the President of the United States.
- TRUE or FALSE: A member of the Blowing Rock Town Council violating North Carolina state law governing quasi-judicial public hearings is less important to my life than a decision by Congress to send economic aid to Rwanda.
Interesting questions, of course, and some of the answers may be complex. And yet, if readers are honest with themselves, in almost every instance the choice turns out to be simple. What happens on a local level has a greater impact on their respective local lives than federal or even state decisions, however big those might seem at the time because of the national news headlines they garner. That’s because what is happening local stays local. If a local governmental action is not affecting me immediately, it is more than likely affecting a friend, neighbor, or family member.
Metal detectors at school means that we may have local threats and the school board is acting to rectify the situation. Military aid to The Ukraine is probably some of my federal tax dollars being deployed, but The Ukraine is 5,286 miles away and there is an ocean between us.
Subsidies to soybean farmers MIGHT keep food prices lower than they would be otherwise (if the farmers use our tax dollars for their intended purpose), but increasing my property taxes by any amount empties my wallet.
If the Town Council can earn revenue from a renovated American Legion Building, they might be able to avoid raising my property taxes. However much I might like the President, we have a system of checks and balances in this country that blunts the positive, as well as the negative behaviors of the office holder.
Unless I have relatives in Rwanda, our national largesse to that Third World country pales beside the betrayal of trust voters place in an elected official to do the right thing.
It is a sad state of affairs when that level of apathy is running amok in society, as a whole, as well as in Blowing Rock.
So, in a democratic republic such as that which we live in, where “the people” vote to elect representatives to make decisions for the greater good, it is important that
[A] as many people as possible exercise their right to vote, and
[B] that they have well-qualified, high integrity, and intelligent candidates to choose from when they go to the polls to exercise that right.
How many is “vibrant”?
By comparison to all of Watauga County, Blowing Rock is a vibrant democracy. But that is not saying a lot when you consider the numbers.
In the recent November 5th election, only 10.87% of the 19,599 registered voters in Watauga County cast ballots, according to data we obtained from the North Carolina Board of Elections website. By comparison, 434 ballots were cast in Blowing Rock’s mayoral election, so a little more than 34% of the town’s entire population voted. In a previous election where we were able to secure the number of voters registered in Blowing Rock, the participation rate was about 41%. Without Blowing Rock, the County’s participation rate is less than 9%.
Now it is embarrassing enough that fewer than one out of 10 people in the larger county who have said they are interested in voting (by registering to do so) actually vote when it comes time to go to the polls. With absentee ballots and early voting options, it’s really quite hard to come up with an adequate excuse not to exercise your requested voting privilege.
But even for Blowing Rock, whose participation rate is more than four times that of the rest of Watauga County, only four out of 10 people who sign up for having a say in government at any level actually follow-up on their right.
Well, it is a sad state of affairs when that level of apathy is running amok in society, as a whole, as well as in Blowing Rock. The excuses are numerous, but here is a sampling of what we heard in taking a survey recently:
- “I forgot about it.”
- “I had to work.”
- “I had to pick my kids up at school.”
- “I was sick.”
- “My vote would not have made a difference.”
- “I didn’t like any of the candidates.”
- “There was no vote for President of the U.S., so this election doesn’t really matter.”
Getting to good
Now that sixth reason above actually has some relevance to this discussion: “I didn’t like any of the candidates.”
Just as it is important for us, individually, to exercise our franchised right to vote, it is equally important for us to consider representing our fellow citizens both in elected office (Mayor or Board of Commissioners), as well as in the various volunteer committees such as Planning Board, Blowing Rock Appearance Advisory Commission, Board of Adjustments, Tourism Development Authority, and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
That kind of collective community apathy will often result in elected officials who are either incompetent or ill-prepared for the jobs they are taking on.
Serving on one of the volunteer boards is a great starting point for engaging in public service. As a member of the Planning Board, for example, you gain a valuable appreciation for what is important in permitting or denying various types of development within the town limits, especially how proposed building projects comply or not with the Town’s Land Use Code. Sometimes, you might even be asked by Town Council to review the Land Use Code and make suggestions for updating the code to clear up vagaries or respond to new demographic or economic trends.
Current members of the Tourism Development Authority board, for example, learned recently that too much of a good thing might actually be “bad,” resulting in unintended consequences such as both vehicular and pedestrian congestion, traffic problems, parking challenges, and excessive stress on municipal infrastructure. Collectively, they are thinking, “How can we better manage our successful investments in tourism?”
In short, taking some time out of your otherwise busy schedule is a great way to serve in a public capacity, to go beyond the apathy that is characteristic of most of society.
Getting that experience is also important for potentially running for an elected office, as Mayor or the Board of Commissioners, where you can actually have a direct impact on government’s vision for the Town, its policies affecting budget and taxation, and economic development.
If not now, when?
As a member of Town Council, you are NOT responsible for getting very far at all into the weeds of the Town’s day-to-day operations. Instead, you should be more of a “big thinker,” establishing a vision for the type of town Blowing Rock’s citizens want it to be and the policies for getting there.
By all indications that we have observed so far, our new Town Manager, Shane Fox, is an excellent choice to lead Blowing Rock’s operational management team. If the Town Council focuses on policy and vision while holding the town manager and his staff responsible for executing their jobs effectively and efficiently, Mr. Fox’s job will be better facilitated. If the commissioners stray into the proverbial weeds of operational areas like some have done in the past few years, his and his staff members’ respective jobs are more likely to be compromised and personally unfulfilling.
If the body politic truly seeks change, then it is time to start preparing a list of alternative candidates.
Commissioners don’t need to make the job harder than it is. They need to trust the professional members of town staff that have been hired to oversee day-to-day operations and implement the Town Council’s various policies. Absent trust, then those Board members need to either step down from their elected roles OR have very good reasons for asking that a staff member be terminated or replaced. And those concerns should be directed to the Town Manager to evaluate them and take potential action — if, in fact, the elected official’s concerns have any merit at all.
Far too often in the recent past, Blowing Rock has had an inadequate number of truly qualified candidates to choose from. That kind of collective municipal apathy will often result in elected officials who are either incompetent or ill-prepared for the jobs they are taking on. When incompetent or ill-prepared candidates get elected, they stray into the weeds of day-to-day operations, they make bad decisions that are not in the community’s best interests, or they exhibit erratic, even unexplainable behavior except that a course of action might satisfy their own personal agenda. The criticism these less-than-qualified officials consequently receive invariably polarizes the electorate, or at the very least frustrates even those who voted for them — because the alternative choices were even worse.
The Town needs qualified people to step up and become candidates.
That Council newcomer David Harwood received some 43% more votes than the second finisher (former Mayor Pro Tem and incumbent Albert Yount) of the four candidates and almost matched the combined votes of the third and fourth place finishers, Ray Pickett and Jim Steele, suggests that the Blowing Rock electorate is ready for change. Collectively, the Town is looking for new leadership and better, more effective representation in the discharge of Commissioner duties.
In 2021, the Board of Commissioners will have three open seats up for election. That is a majority of the Town’s policy- and decision-making body. If the body politic truly seeks change, then it is time to start preparing a list of alternative candidates.
The Town needs qualified people to step up and become candidates. If otherwise qualified, saying you are too busy to serve is rarely acceptable in a society where representative democracy is the order of the day. And Blowing Rock is blessed with an abundance of people with intelligence, integrity, and good hearts to take on those roles.
While it is always easier to sit back and let someone else — even if less qualified — make the sacrifices that are necessary for public service, there may never be a better time than the present and future for qualified citizens to contribute and give back to the community and town that they love. If not now, when?
Previously serving as an elected official is NOT a pre-requisite and sometimes even isn’t a plus. Far too many candidates who have demonstrated unacceptable performance in other elected capacities, at the county level, for instance, have sadly been successful in pulling the wool over the eyes of an unsuspecting public in other elections, pounding their chests while touting, “I have experience” — even when it was found to be a bad experience.
Blowing Rock enjoys a reputation for being a great place to both live and visit, and even to raise and educate the young at a terrific school. Sure, there are plenty of things for us to think about nationally, but we need to act locally if we are to preserve that reputation.
Here is a list of the vacancies on each of Blowing Rock’s vital volunteer boards.
- Planning Board — 3
- Board of Adjustments — 4
- Tourisim Development Authority — 1
- Blowing Rock Appearance Advisory Commission — 1
- Alcohol Beverage Control Board – 1
There is an application process. CLICK HERE to obtain the application and to indicate your interest. The Board Appointment Application must be completed and submitted to Hilari Hubner, Town Clerk, at Town Hall or mailed to P O Box 47, Blowing Rock NC 28605, or email a scanned application to firstname.lastname@example.org.
APPLICATIONS MUST BE RECEIVED BY MONDAY, JANUARY 6, 2020