From the Editor’s Desk: Involvement means more than just reading what happened

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, January 19, 2023

After last Friday’s column, I received quite a few responses. For those wondering what I’m talking about, in the piece, I questioned why there were more citizens allowed on Buckingham County’s litter committee than on the one designed to make recommendations about what the county should do about gold mining. Several folks agreed with me. But it’s the five who didn’t that sparked this follow up.

Their argument was that it didn’t matter. So what if only one citizen was on the actual committee? After all, The Herald will likely cover the meetings (of course we will) and people can read about what happened. Therein lies my problem.

“People can read about what happened.” Look at that sentence for a minute and see if you can pick out the problematic part. I would argue that one sentence highlights the main problem in this whole discussion. Residents feel left out.

When I brought that up in several conversations, it wasn’t believed. After all, the meetings have been public, broadcast on YouTube with all the documentation available to read with a simple visit to the county website. And yes, people still have the ability to speak up for three minutes during the public comment period of the monthly meeting. But that doesn’t make people feel like they’re involved. That’s providing information about what is currently happening or has happened in the past. As in, it’s done. There’s no way you can affect a final decision there. Also, for any elected body, it’s extremely easy to ignore public comments. In more than 20 years of covering meetings in three states, I’ve seen politicians posting to Facebook, texting or admitting to zoning out during this portion. Right or wrong, a lot of people feel that public comments are ignored, which is why so many don’t do it.

So, you can see why those options aren’t enough to make residents feel involved. That’s where committees come in, groups that can research a subject and then present recommendations to the larger board. Nobody says the board has to follow these recommendations. But it gives people an opportunity to have a hand in their government, to possibly affect the final verdict.

As I said earlier, this isn’t about being aware. We passed that point a while ago, where Buckingham residents felt comfortable just being aware of decisions in this gold mining case. The frustration and anger some residents feel comes from the fact they see a major decision looming in the not-so-distant future. As we’ve mentioned before, gold mining could have a dramatic impact on nearby farms, rivers and just property in general.

It’s hard to be ok with just sitting on the sidelines while someone else potentially decides the future of your farm, along with it’s possible resale value. And so, they see this problem and want to have a hand in deciding how to deal with it.

Would adding members to the gold mining committee immediately make everyone happy? Of course not. But an increased citizen presence on the group would make many people feel like their situations, that their side of the story is being represented. Right now, many feel that’s not the case. And it’s hard to argue against that with just one citizen on the committee, to go with two politicians.

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at Brian.Carlton@FarmvilleHerald.com.