Meeting was a ‘farce'
When I heard there would be a public hearing on the demolition proposal, I was excited to attend. This would be my first visit to a meeting of the Watauga County commissioners, and I looked forward to an informational and pleasant experience — which I did not receive.
During the last few years, I have heard so many conflicting statements regarding how much the new school would cost, as well as what would become of the old school.
My understanding in respect to the public hearing was that, in fact, the format would be a review of what, where, when and why. I was appalled to see what took place.
What took place was not what I expected. The public hearing restricted the input of Watauga County citizens and ended up with a lecture by the commissioners to the citizens as to what they planned to do. The individuals who wished to be heard, and who had gone to substantial preparation and cost of materials, were prepared to enlighten the commissioners on how a segment of citizens felt about their idea in respect to what could be done with the old school that would utilize the present resources to the best advantage for Watauga citizens.
The commissioners, unknown to citizens, had planned for their regular business meeting. They moved through the so-called public hearing rapidly and moved to vote on the issue of the demolition of the old school. In their 4-1 vote for demolition, they moved on to their business agenda.
Whether the procedure they followed is legal is questionable; the process was certainly most disrespectful to the concerned citizens who had gone to a lot expense and trouble to bring their view forward. Since the meeting was set for 8 a.m., many citizens could not attend.
One speaker was allowed seven minutes for his presentation that I considered ridiculous for a public meeting. He gave each commissioner a packet of prepared material and photographs concerning an alterative to what the commissioners had obviously decided in advance. He received a “hatchet job.”
To me, one of the real interesting features of the “public hearing” was at the conclusion of the meeting. The speaker I referenced had prepared materials on the table for each commissioner. A committee reported to the commissioners on some minor point that needed clarifying, and the commissioner chair stated that “we need to take this up in closed session.”
The irony that a minor point regarding some small amount of money had to be brought to conference and reviewed in closed session was confusing. The issue being considered in the old school was a multimillion-dollar decision, but the commissioners had predetermined their decision with little thought in respect to what the “public hearing” was about. It was a farce.
In conclusion, it is not difficult to understand why few citizens participate in the county commissioners'meetings. The acoustics in the room are atrocious and one can hear very little. Perhaps the public address system could be modified to make it possible for Watauga County citizens to hear, and, in fact, participate in our government. Yes, it is our government.
Max E. Gregory