The Sound Of Civic Silence

Published 1:30 pm Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Now trending at public meetings: abstentions and absences.

As we have covered public meetings throughout the year, especially in Cumberland County, we’ve noted County supervisors and school board members’ increasing absences from meetings and decisions to abstain from casting votes.

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The frequency and consistency of members’ absences from public meetings and abstentions from voting is disheartening.

Supervisors in Cumberland have tabled issues due to a lack of board members present, and communities have lost their voice due to representatives’ choosing not to vote.

Abstention from voting should be exercised sparingly and only in the case of a conflict of interest. To abstain from a vote on grounds of feeling ill-informed is a disservice to a representative’s district. To abstain on grounds of disagreement with an issue instead of raising your hand and voting “no” is also a disservice.

When it comes to being absent, we understand that not all meetings can be attended. Things happen.

If a board member is unable to represent his district at a meeting, the board should be notified and the public should be informed why. This is part of working under public scrutiny; every effort should be made to keep the public informed regarding how their elected representatives represent them.

It is up to the public to hold duly elected officials accountable for their actions, and to do this the public must also be involved. In the case of a deadlocked vote, we have witnessed boards turn to the community and ask for input to help with the decision.

We should say, in all fairness, that we have witnessed boards who wished more members of the community were present so they could receive balanced input.

We have sat in on meetings where board members have expected and have needed public comment on an issue, and the decidedly empty meeting rooms have been silent.

Your voice does not end with your vote — it begins. If you do not write your officials, talk to them when you see them in the grocery store, give them a call, show up at board meetings and make your needs and opinions heard.

Take the silence out of public hearings and inject what matters most: your voice.

You are conceding that your opinions really do not matter when, in reality, it is your voice, the people’s voice, that should be heard.

When an official raises his hand to cast a vote, he effectively raises thousands of hands — yours and your neighbors in the voting district.

Make sure your officials are fully informed where your children, property and paychecks are concerned. Do not let a few loud community voices maintain rule over an absent silent majority.

Buckingham, Prince Edward, Cumberland, Dillwyn and Farmville, hold your officials accountable for their actions. Help them to better serve you, your neighbors and your community. There is no excuse for an empty boardroom on either side of the table.