Tim Sutton told me once that he wasn’t too concerned about what his legacy as an elected county leader might be. He simply didn’t care.
It was an interesting statement that could be taken multiple ways. I have spoken to the longtime Alamance County commissioner dating back to his pre-elected office days — when he was employed by a bank in downtown Burlington in the 1980s and spent his free time conversing with sports writers at area newspapers. It is a conversational relationship that continued when I returned to Burlington in 2007 as editor of the Times-News and he was already an entrenched office holder. He still sends me an email from time to time or offers a comment on this site if the mood strikes. So I know the guy.
I read Sutton’s remark as two messages in one. First, it’s the comment of a politician who believes in what he’s talking about, and is principled in voting that way with little concern about where the chips may fly about and ultimately land. He’s going to keep taxes low and some services at a minimum or less. He studies and prioritizes based on a future is now philosophy. I think Tim would agree with most of this. Legacy-shmegacy, I ain’t budging from what I think unless you can prove me 1,000 percent wrong, and then probably not.
The second way I read it goes like this: Sutton doesn’t give one damn about the future of the community he serves today. Education, services and good jobs down the road aren’t his problems. Let some other poor elected schnook worry about it. Improving quality of life for the community and ensuring a better future for emerging generations doesn’t matter in the least.
I think there is truth in both.
Taking both points of view into consideration my guess is that there is about a 0.1 percent chance Sutton will vote after a public hearing to bump up the proposed county budget for 2018-19 and provide at least a bit more of the requested funding for the Alamance-Burlington School System. County manager Bryan Hagood on Monday released the preliminary spending plan. You can read Burlington Times-News reporter Isaac Groves’ story here about the budget presentation and clash among commissioners about it.
Comments during the meeting by commissioners Bob Byrd and Bill Lashley got the most attention. They’re an oil and water mixture at best. Byrd, a Democrat, leans left. Lashley, who like Sutton has served for decades, is a Republican who goes hard right. He’s conservative and then some. Byrd has supported greater education funding for ABSS his entire political career. Lashley has opposed it probably from childhood. Monday night Byrd once again spoke up for a tax increase to meet the school system’s proposal. Earlier this year outgoing ABSS Superintendent Bill Harrison presented a budget request seeking a $4.2 million funding increase from the county and said it would take a $1.7 million increase to maintain the status quo. Hagood’s proposed budget countered with an additional $655,987 for schools.
School board member Brian Feeley responded this way on social media.
Byrd’s response during the meeting was a call for a 3-cent tax increase, something he said would cost the average county homeowner $45 per year. He argued the county was “shortchanging” public education. “It takes leadership to achieve results and we’re in a period of austerity right now, so why have a budget based on an artificial tax rate in a time of prosperity?” From my perspective, 3-cents is a little too optimistic.
Lashley’s response was similar to one a year or so ago when he called what Byrd said, “bullshit,” only without actually saying “bullshit” this time. “Alamance County can’t afford having people like you in office and I hope in November the people punch you out of here. I’m tired of listening to you,” Lashley said.
Intriguing choice of word, “punch,” from an elected leader who has a history of altercations.
It was an interesting exchange on multiple levels. One was the agitation expressed by Lashley. That’s not uncommon and is in fact all too common in every definable way. It was also a direct statement but one oddly ironic coming from Lashley. His critics often use the same phrase “Alamance County can’t afford having people like you in office” to describe Lashley’s parsimonious tenure, a time that has coincided with the county’s decline in several areas including the economy, education, health and wellness. Lashley, of course, was not being ironic.
So I think it’s safe to characterize Lashley’s position on the education budget as immovable.
Which brings us to Commissioner Amy Galey, who chairs the current board. She questioned whether the timing for a tax increase to raise school spending is wise with a bond referendum for school construction and renovations on the November ballot. County voters may be less likely to support the bonds and a potential tax increase coming on the heels of a tax increase. It’s a valid point, a very valid point. Galey, a Republican, is also facing re-election in November. She didn’t mention it, but it’s worth noting that commissioners have been here before — a year ago. The board was faced with a plea to fund the ABSS strategic plan and declined by a 3-2 vote, with Galey casting the deciding vote against — siding with Lashley and Sutton following a sham public hearing. Galey took a ton of heat and still is for her vote, which pro-education forces in the community see as a betrayal of her campaign promises. Galey disagrees.
All of this simply leads back to where this started a year ago. The issues are similar and the players exactly the same. Byrd is for a tax increase. Lashley, Galey and likely Sutton are against it. Commissioner Eddie Boswell offers a compromise budget proposal with a 1.5-cent tax increase.
Boswell, always the peacemaker.
As mandated by law the commissioners will dutifully hold a public hearing. This year it will be at 6:30 p.m. at Cummings High School on June 4. The board has until June 30 to either adopt the budget as presented or make changes. Last year they voted against more school funding minutes after 40 people spoke in favor of it at the hearing. It was a done deal even before anyone spoke.
Education supporters are busy this week rounding up speakers to plead their case before the board again. It’ll do about as much good this year as it did last. Another sham hearing is in the making.
Now that’s a legacy.