Healthy debate does not mean board is broken

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners is looking at bringing in a consultant from the University of North Carolina School of Government to help the board members, among other things, play nice together.

We’re not really sure how much this might cost taxpayers of Mount Airy — City Manager Barbara Jones said that will be determined by how detailed the work the school might be asked to do — but we have some issue with paying anyone to teach the board members to be nice to one another.

Being an elected official is a difficult, and sometimes overwhelming, job. At the local level, where some of the most important governing in our nation occurs, we don’t have professional politicians. We have local folks from different walks of life who have decided to serve their communities as elected officials. It’s a time-consuming, often thankless job.

If commissioners are primarily asking for guidance from the School of Government in how to better serve the community, in how to set realistic goals to pursue within the confines of what they can legally do in their offices, if they’re seeking more efficient ways to do the work, perhaps that’s a worthy pursuit and could justify the cost.

But to simply have someone come in to train the board members to get along better, or to be friendlier, would be a waste of time.

At least two members of the city board have referred to the board as “broken” over the past several months. We would respectfully disagree.

There were, and perhaps continue to be, some hard feelings from last year’s election. No consultant is going to fix that — adults need to simply move on and get with the work at hand.

As for more recent disagreements among commissioners, this board has individuals who have strong opinions, individuals who don’t mind voicing those opinions and sticking to their guns even when they are in the minority. They have sharply different ideas on some subjects, and their discussions can, at times, become quite spirited.

And, truth be told, there might even be some members of the board who don’t like one another too much.

All of that is okay. We suspect the residents of Mount Airy are better served by a board whose members don’t mind some open, animated discussions. We know the city is served best when the commissioners have differences of opinion, and those discussions lead to the board members taking a hard look at the opposition, viewing questions from different angles.

So long as the board members show a professional level of respect toward one another, so long as the board members aren’t out in the community bad-mouthing and back-stabbing their colleagues, then we believe dissension and honest disagreements can be good for a board, and for the community it serves.

Sometimes those discussions can be unpleasant, but they are not indicative of a board that’s broken. Given the progress this board has made on a number of projects this year, including moving forward with developing the former Spencer’s property, we don’t think there is evidence of a broken board.

Far from it. And we hope the board doesn’t get caught up in wasting taxpayer money on a feel-good, hand-holding consultant who tries to do away with their open, frank discussions.

The meetings might be a little more pleasant and easier, but the residents of Mount Airy won’t be as well served.

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