Perception is reality

Published 8:39 am Thursday, June 9, 2011

The “high road” was wide open here Monday, but yet two members of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners opted to go in another direction.

As employees of the Hertford County Public Schools, Commissioners Curtis Freeman and Ronald Gatling should have recused themselves from engaging in a discussion or casting a vote on an issue regarding the possibility of increasing county-level funding for the local school system.

Instead, Freeman and Gatling joined fellow Commissioner Bill Mitchell in approving, by a 3-2 vote, an extra $100,000 for the schools….an amount over and above the $4.17 million already included in Hertford County’s budget for secondary education during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Commission Chairman Johnnie Ray Farmer and Commissioner Howard Hunter III both voted against the funding increase, citing that all five members of the board had agreed a week earlier to current year level funding to all outside agencies that receive county funds.

We will not engage here in a debate on whether or not Hertford County Schools is worthy of such an increase (they actually requested a $240,000 hike). They, like many state agencies, are taking a financial beating on the state’s new budget.

Rather, we will focus on one comment made by David Shields, Chairman of the Hertford County Board of Education. At Monday’s Commissioner’s meeting where school officials made their request for additional funds, Shields was quoted as saying, “Even with this request for additional funds from the county, we’re still faced with decisions that will cost people their jobs.”

We do not know if Freeman or Gatling will be a part of that reduction in force. Will their vote be perceived by the public as an attempt to ensure they will remain gainfully employed?

Both men had an opportunity on Monday to ethically remove themselves from the picture and would have been commended for doing so. Now, both must face the court of public opinion, a place where perception is reality.

– The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald