EDITORIAL — Poisonous partisanship affecting local governments
The poisonous partisanship we see in Washington and on cable news each day is beginning to find its way into local governments across the country.
Evidence of this changing environment was on display locally last week during a budget workshop between the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors and the Buckingham County School Board.
The issues were typical of such a meeting. How to proceed on capital projects, pay raises for teachers and school bus replacements. What was not typical was the sniping between members exacerbated when Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Don Matthews refused to call School Superintendent Dr. Daisy Hicks by her academic title.
Matthews seemed to innocently enough refer to Hicks as “Ms. Hicks” before asking a question. He was stopped short and asked by Theresa Bryant, the chairperson of the school board, to refer to her by her Dr. title, but instead of apologizing and acquiescing, Matthews flat out said he wasn’t going to do that.
“I’m going to address her as Ms. Hicks because that is what I am going to say,” he said as he went on the address the school superintendent as Ms. Hicks again.
The exchange reminded some of the made-up controversy over the use of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s academic title several months ago.
When asked about the exchange after the meeting, Matthews said he was surprised he was asked to use the academic title for the school superintendent.
“I introduced the floor to Dr. Hicks and in doing so used her educational title,” Matthews said in an email. “I was interrupted mid-sentence from another person that stated they wanted me to address the superintendent as Dr. Hicks. I have known Daisy for years and thought this rather strange that this was even stated.”
Giving Matthews the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he was being homey and informal, but another tense exchange later in the meeting shed more light on how he runs these meetings.
After being asked by school board member Pamela Morris not to yell and to be respectful to the school board members, Matthews basically said he would conduct the meetings as he sees fit.
“You don’t need to address me in that manner and tell me what I need to do or I don’t need to do,” Matthews said. “I’m 63 years old, and I’m going to do it the way I would like to do it.”
Matthews should know age gives no license for disrespect or rudeness. This also illustrates that perhaps Matthews is not the most qualified supervisor to be the chairperson of the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors. The board may be better served to appoint a member who strikes a more moderate tone to lead these meetings.
The school board members are partners in government who play a critical role in the future of the county. They should be respected just as the supervisors, but it was clear the supervisors see them as second fiddle just by looking at the optics from the meeting. The supervisors were all sitting in their places, some high above the room, while the school board members and staff were socially distanced in the audience portion of the auditorium.
At least one member of the Buckingham Board of Supervisors recognized the problem with the tone of the meeting and the fact the divisiveness leads to little progress for the children in Buckingham County schools.
“I’ve been in this chair for 30 years, and I’ve never seen two boards so disrespectful. We’ve always addressed people by their title for the last 30 years,” Supervisor Joe Chambers said. “We’ve got to trust one another. That’s our problem right now. If you’ve got your guns loaded, you need to unload them. This is not helping the school system and is not helping the students at all. We need to come to some common ground and use some common sense up here. This stuff with disrespecting one another is the worst I’ve ever seen, and you should stop it.”
These are not Democrats and Republicans locked in a battle over control of the U.S. Senate. This is 14 local leaders who will likely regularly run into each other in Food Lion, at church or on the soccer field. They have much more in common than they disagree about. It is critical they treat each other as equals, and show an equal amount of respect.
The future of Buckingham County depends on it.
(The views in this editorial are of The Farmville Herald editorial staff. This editorial was written by Editor Roger Watson. He can be reached at Editor@ FarmvilleHerald.com or (434) 808-0622.)