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Cumberland’s death of democracy

Tuesday, April 26, marked a new low for governance in Cumberland County.

Many citizens had come to a public hearing to address a proposed tax increase, possible budget cuts to both the school and sheriff’s office and changes in land use taxes.

However, there were only two sheets to sign for speaking, so I signed the sheet pertaining to the tax increase.

As District Two Supervisor and Board Chairman Lloyd Banks opened the meeting to public comment, he did so with a caveat to the citizens that if they were speaking about the proposed tax hike, they were not to speak of anything but the taxes.

I knew I had time to adjust my remarks since I was at least the 10th speaker on the list. He called the first speaker, who declined comment. He called the next speaker and it was my name I heard. The first symptom of the death of democracy.

I began to speak in favor of a tax increase if it would help to fully fund the school budget. Banks immediately interrupted me and told me I could not speak about the school budget, only taxes. I persisted.

He asked Sheriff Darrell Hodges to physically remove me from the room. I left the podium and returned to my seat.

My experience was not an isolated one. Anyone who tried to speak out was cut off, dismissed and some were thrown out of the meeting.

At one point, Banks shouted, “This is my meeting.”

Democracy began to bleed out as we watched in horror.

Yet, most of us were there because of the comments of another board member. And a true leader, cognizant that a fellow board member, District Four Supervisor David Meinhard, had made inflammatory remarks, as stated in The Farmville Herald (“Compromise is ‘essential,’” Friday, April 22), about cutting the budgets of “two sacred cows, the schools and the sheriff’s department,” would have looked into the crowd, and searched for a solution for the citizens to be heard. Yet he did not.

And neither did the other members of the board ask for him to stop behaving in his rude, disrespectful, disparaging manner.

Until the remaining four members take control away from Banks, democracy will continue to remain on life support in this county.

It is no longer about money; it is about freedom and integrity.

Jennifer M. Sullivan lives in Cumberland and served on the county school board. Her email address is JSullivan@goHTR.com