Gates Co. sets standard as it conducts public#8217;s business

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2008

The folks in Gates County this week set the standard n in many ways n for the way a public meeting should be conducted. In fact, now that I think about it a little bit, they set the standard for the way not just a meeting, but for the way the public’s business should be conducted.

And I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been covering public meetings for a lot of years. I’ve covered them in small towns and in pretty decent sized ones.

Most of those meetings were not well attended.

Generally speaking, in my experience, attendance at a county commissioners or city council meeting will be limited to the elected officials sitting up front, the paid staff, probably a city or county attorney and a finance guy, and two or three “regulars” in the audience.

And, of course, there’s always a reporter from the local newspaper.

That has always left me wondering a little bit.

Government doesn’t get much closer to home than the city and county levels. So why doesn’t the public n that’s you and me n care enough about what those governing bodies are doing to attend the meetings?

Maybe there’s a disconnect. Maybe we don’t pause to realize that everything that is considered in those meetings n whether it be road or sewer repair, or annexation, or consideration of adding personnel in one of the entity’s departments n has to do with money that belongs to the folks who live in that city or county, our money, your money and my money.

But let’s get back to Gates County.

It was Monday night and the county commissioners were to meet at 7 p.m. in the district courtroom. That’s not their usual meeting place. They were meeting there because they have been considering setting acreage limits for folks in the county who have horses n if you had so many horses, you would have to have so many acres. The intent of the commissioners was good. But the measure had drawn strong opposition, so the commissioners set the Monday night meeting to hear, formally, from the people in the county.

And the people in the county responded.

I got there a little after 6:30 p.m. I gave myself some extra time because I’m new to the area and I’m not above getting lost. I was a little overdressed, too. I was wearing a coat and tie because earlier in the day I’d been to an event I thought merited that.

And my tie did not go unnoticed. A lady sitting in the row in front of me turned around and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” I told her who I was and what I was doing and confirmed her suspicion that I, indeed, came from somewhere else. She suggested that I take my coat off n which I did n and we visited for a minute. It was a good thing.

As 7 p.m. drew nearer, the courtroom began to fill. By the time J.S. Pierce gaveled the meeting to order, there were empty seats, but not an abundance of them.

And more people trickled in.

By the time the commissioners got to the main topic of the meeting, I estimated there were between 125 and 150 people in the audience.

I’ve been to some bigger meetings, but I honestly cannot think of a single public hearing I’ve ever attended or covered that drew that many folks.

And many of those present took the opportunity to speak.

Most of them presented well reasoned positions. A couple just spoke.

And the commissioners listened. Sometimes they asked questions.

At the end of the meeting, they voted to do away with the acreage requirement.

That, my friends, is the way government of the people and by the people is supposed to work.

It occurs to me that the very, very well-paid folks people like you and I send to Washington to represent us year after year after year might do well to recess and come to Gatesville, North Carolina, to watch J.S. Pierce and Kenneth Jernigan and Wade Askew and Carlton Nickens and Graham Twine do business. They n the folks Americans from all the way across America send to Washington n might, if they paid attention while they were in Gatesville, go back to D.C. a lot better, in several ways, at what they do.

David Sullens is publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. He can be reached via email at or by calling 332-7218.