Here is the root of the problem

Published 5:11 pm Saturday, June 6, 2009

Awhile ago the Northampton County Board of Commissioners discussed the possibility of changing one of their two monthly meetings to an evening time.

Well, actually, there never seemed to be a possibility that the time was going to change as there was only a hint of discussion by the board when one of their colleagues brought it up.

The commissioner who suggested the meeting time changed was Virginia Spruill, who was following up on a suggestion by a citizen brought before the commissioners in a public forum held in Rich Square.

The citizen noted the commissioners’ monthly meeting times (first Monday of the month at 10 a.m. and third Monday of the month at 1 p.m.) interfered with her schedule as she was working during those times.

I spoke with that citizen after the forum to see if her intentions were true: would she attend a meeting if the commissioners changed just one of their meeting times?

“Yes,” she said.

During that hint of discussion in the commissioners’ meeting about the meeting time change, Spruill was the odd person out.

Others sitting on the board had their responses in hand, including “we’ve tried it before and no one came” paired with concerns over paying (county) employees overtime to attend a night meeting.

And then the topic was dropped as consensus seemed to be keeping the meeting times the same.

In some ways this disturbed me because a board should want to engage its constituents…no matter the hour or the circumstances. After all it was those votes that put them on the board.

This issue is at the root of the problem when it comes to lack of citizen involvement in local government.

The business conducted by county and town boards has become detached from the citizens it’s done on behalf of and, unfortunately, these boards make many of the crucial decisions that affect all of us.

With this detachment from local government business comes citizens’ aloofness to the process, then they become uneducated on the matters that involve them, and with that a total disregard for the whole system itself.

You can factor in many reasons as to why citizens don’t bother with sitting in on local board meetings, but the schedules as to when meetings are held are often a factor.

You must have opportunity in order to be involved.

Other county commission boards in Bertie, Hertford and Gates have opened the door to those citizens by having evening meetings at least once a month or every other month.

Northampton County should consider the same.

The Northampton County Board of Commissioners should want to engage their voters at their monthly meetings, because citizens educated on the processes of county government will bring diverse and fresh opinions or ideas to their board.

While not every citizen in the county will want to be involved in the government procedure, those who would like to participate should be accommodated.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.