Editor’s Desk

GOP splinters; town manager has a wish

May 2, 2014 

From what I hear, the Johnston County Republican Party has a divide that could become a rift.

The divide is obvious because two sitting county commissioners face primary challenges. If all Republicans were happy with the county’s leadership, then Commissioner Cookie Pope would not face a challenge from Patrick Harris, and Commissioner Chad Stewart would not face opposition from Keith Brinson.

On the one hand, I don’t get it. Johnston County has modern school buildings today largely because of Mrs. Pope, who argued, correctly, that Johnston could build schools without raising property taxes. Mr. Stewart, meanwhile, has a much shorter tenure on the county board, but taxpayers aren’t massing in protests against his policy decisions.

On the other hand, I do get it, at least a little. Johnston County’s school board is officially nonpartisan, but most of its members are Republicans. And yet these school board Republicans, with a mix of state and county dollars, pay their superintendent almost 10 times more than what a newly minted classroom teacher earns. In a time when teachers feel under siege – no pay raise in years, the possible loss of tenure, the loss of extra income from advanced degrees – the superintendent’s compensation might strike some Republicans as both politically and practically unacceptable.

Next Tuesday, we will learn which side of the divide the county’s GOP voters stand on. Here’s what I hope will happen after that: If the incumbents win, I hope Mrs. Pope and Mr. Stewart will be mindful that spending is both a practical and political matter. As a practical matter, county government spends huge sums of money, and that spending should be subject to constant review in search of savings and efficiencies. As a political matter, some spending is hard for taxpayers to swallow when other needs go lacking. If Mr. Harris and Mr. Brinson win, I hope they will resist the temptation to overreach in the way that GOP state lawmakers overreached on education and voting reforms.

More than anything, I hope the factions in the Johnston GOP will choose cooperation over conquest. In Johnston County, the Republican Party has been the progressive party, the one that built schools, reduced class sizes and raised teacher salary supplements, all without raising property taxes.

That’s an impressive record of accomplishment and a legacy I hope the party would not risk over infighting.

A town manager’s wish

The other day, I asked a town manager the following question: If you could persuade your town’s business community to do one thing, what would it be and why? His answer surprised me because it had nothing to do with town government, or so it seemed at first blush.

The town manager said he would ask the business community to become involved in the schools. Specifically, he would ask businesses to give employees time away from work to mentor students and parents of at-risk young people.

Schools are not a function of town government in Johnston County, and the town manager didn’t answer the “why?” part of my question. But after giving some thought to his answer, I think I know where he’s coming from.

This town manager knows, primarily, that income rises with education. For a town, the implications of that are many and good. Because educated people have better-paying jobs, they can afford more-expensive housing. That nice housing, in turn, bolsters a town’s tax base, allowing it to either cut its property-tax rate or expand services. If it chooses the latter, a town with more money can hire more police officers, firefighters, street sweepers and so on. A town with more money can also build more parks and other amenities like trails and greenways.

That higher-end housing also attracts more retailers, who build stores that further bolster the tax base that a town needs to provide ample services and amenities.

You can see where this is going.

I don’t mean to suggest that town managers aren’t altruistic; who wouldn’t want more mentors involved with young people, and who wouldn’t want more parents better equipped to help their at-risk children?

But what’s good for students is also good for towns, and that’s where a town manager’s priorities lie.

We’ve moved downstairs

Finally this week, a housekeeping note. Those of you who have climbed the many stairs to our Smithfield newsroom will be relieved to know that we have moved downstairs, sharing space with our advertising colleagues at 228 E. Market St.

The move makes us more accessible to customers who need to drop off a church announcement, community note, photo, sports item, etc.

Personally, I’ll miss the abundant light allowed in by the many windows upstairs, but I won’t miss the wear and tear on my 53-year-old knees.

Come see us when you get a chance.

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