The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

December 3, 2012

These are the ‘Days of Richfield’

By Brian Graves, Staff Writer

Sunday, December 2, 2012 — There is a rather common phrase used in these parts that is defined as an argument between two parties that just goes back and forth and never gets resolved.

It is a phrase so common that I doubt it would come off as offensive to anyone who has been raised around here, but proper decorum prevents me from using it in a family publication.

Let’s just say it involves a distance contest using a certain substance.

However, it is a phrase that comes to mind thinking about the give and take, push and pull between the honorable mayor of Richfield and the honorable members of the city commission.

That may seem cynical addressing them that way, but I mean that.

I have not seen nor heard or had anything but cordial conversations with all of these elected officials and I do have a respect for anyone that takes the responsibility of an elected office.

I’ve not been here long and am not totally familiar with all of the history behind this stomach bumping between the mayor and the commission.

All I do know is it apparently isn’t new and has been going on for sometime.

As a reporter, I have to admit it borders on fun watching the back-and-forth between the two parties.

And, there’s no denying that when an argument in Richfield hits our front page, people are interested and it sells papers.

It’s sort of like when you slow down as you pass a car wreck.

But, when I called a professor of municipal law at the University of North Carolina to get her opinion of the commission’s recent actions and her first reaction was to laugh, it was a wake-up call.

It should be one for the elected officials of Richfield.

It is not my job to offer an opinion when I cover a story, only the facts, and I believe I and the other reporters that have covered their meetings have done that fairly and accurately.

But, my observation of the situation is that maybe those officials aren’t reading between the lines.

The old saying is, “Perception is reality.”

That perception is these people just don’t like each other. It’s not that they agree or disagree on strongly held views, it’s the perception they simply don’t like each other for some obscure reason.

I can’t prove it one way or another, but it sure feels that way.

The unfortunate thing for them is they are the ones who their fellow citizens elected to run their city.

They voted for them not caring if any of them liked any of the others. They elected them as a body of officers to carry out the important duties involved with running a town.

It was not an audition for “Days of Our Lives.” But, the perception once again is that not only are they acting the parts, they are writing an entertaining script.

It is a script that could destroy a very nice town.

Again, I have no personal animosity toward any of these officials and I hope they like and respect me.

But, I’ve been observing governmental bodies such as theirs for more than three decades and, while I have seen politics at play, I have never seen it like this.

Let me focus on School Street and some facts as I understand them by truth and logic.

First, this is not an “end of the world” matter for the town commission.

The town will not go under should School Street not receive the attention the mayor feels it deserves.

There are other streets within the city that, if it’s anything like any other town, needs work as bad or worse than School Street.

Second, the commissioners say they want to be conservative with the funds.

Good for them.

That is part of their job to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money and to prioritize the needs of the town to ensure the residents’ good standard of living.

Third, a road being used mainly as a route for school children to be transported to their classes for nine months a year is a road that should be maintained to a superior standard by someone.

That is caused not just by volume of traffic, but also the heavy use by large vehicles such as delivery trucks as well as school buses.

Fourth, the town has a former educator as a mayor.

His passion to take care of a school would naturally be a strong one.

He has also expressed fears that if the town does not show a concern for the school, with the county system having its current restructuring insecurities, Richfield School could be closed.

Maybe, maybe not. But, it seems like a reasonable concern to be taken into consideration.

As many in this county already know, it can be a traumatic thing to lose a community school.

However, the commission’s decision not to pave the street should not infer they do not support the school. In fact, it appears they very much support the school.

It is simply they have a different point of view about the road, its condition and who should be responsible.

Fifth, this is a very small thing to make such a big deal over.

The cost is really very minimal compared to other items on the town budget.

It isn’t inconceivable to think that the 70 feet of paving would cost as much as what was spent on “Party in the Park.”

Sixth, while not taking sides, the mayor upped everyone by taking on this reporter’s challenge.

I told him it was time to stop yelling and start producing proof on paper the street is the city’s responsibility.

Much to his credit, he did that.

His evidence that it is the city’s responsibility outweighs the evidence, or lack of evidence, presented from the opposing view.

That’s just a fact.

So, here is a neutral person’s advice directly to both the mayor and commissioners offered with only the best of intentions, although I’m going to be as subtle as a hose of cold water hitting the cats under the porch.

You guys need to stop this.

One side may say it’s because of the action of the other. But, the reaction can be just as bad and it’s bad manners to point fingers.

Why don’t you just fix the road and be done with it or negotiate a time frame in which to get it done?

It’s not going to cost that much and the next time it needs it, you’ll probably be out of office or “in a better place.”

And, once you’ve done that, have a private meeting. That’s not something you hear from a reporter often.

Go where you can have a big country dinner, relax and talk openly and contructively about your differences and how you can resolve them so you can work better together.

I’ve always found a big plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes can soothe over any problem.

While it may be rude to read at the table, look up the word “compromise” betw-een the chicken and the chocolate pie. I think it might help a great deal.

Because, if you don’t do something to make amends of some sort, it won’t matter who is right or who thinks they’re right, you will all come off looking like something that is really worth laughing at.

And, that will be everyone’s fault and Richfield’s loss.