I had a conversation with a pastor once about his sermon technique.
He liked to do series that built on each other with a little bit of review that led into the new content. Only sometimes the “little bit of review” actually seemed to be the bulk of the sermon.
We were having a candid discussion about a variety of topics and that subject came up. He told me there were two main reasons for his propensity for repeating the material the way he did: Some things are important enough to say more than once and some people may need to hear it more than once.
When I was thinking about the topic of this week’s column, I kept on switching between topics, but I always came back to the same issue: getting involved and paying attention with local government.
My hesitation in writing about the topic was that I had already touched on the topic relatively recently – my column on April 29 – and I was hesitant to sound like I was “preaching” at people.
But, like that pastor said, some things are important enough to say more than once, and some people may need to hear it more than once.
One phrase I hear quite regularly in everyday conversation is one you will be familiar with: “I hate politics.” On many levels, I completely agree with this statement, especially when I see situations basically come to a standstill because of political maneuvering.
But, while I don’t think local government is entirely free of some of that tomfoolery, I do think it impacts our daily lives in such a visceral way that we can’t just ignore it as politics and think it won’t affect us.
If you look at page 1A, you will see two stories about issues the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors and Powhatan County School Board are dealing with right now that very much impact the lives of every single citizen in Powhatan County.
The board of supervisors is only days away from the very difficult task of adopting the fiscal year (FY) 2021 Operating Budget on June 29. I don’t think this is ever an easy task, but, if you think about the level of unknown variables they are dealing with right now, it is not an enviable responsibility.
Read the 1A story for a better description, but — in the middle of an ongoing pandemic and economic downturn — the board essentially has to set its budget priorities and then choose a tax rate based on an anticipated collection rate that they think can achieve those revenue figures and that they feel residents can live with. Whether you agree with their final decision or not, I hope people at least appreciate the complexity and daunting nature of that task.
So what can you do? As you are reading this, the board has already met on June 22, which unfortunately occurred after press time. But what board members had decided the week before was that they were all going to come prepared to that meeting with their budget priorities and a plan on how to structure this year’s budget, followed by a discussion to decide on the best course of action – or at least one three or more of them could agree on.
If you didn’t watch the meeting live, you can still watch the meeting on the county’s YouTube channel. And, once you do, depending on what you hear, I hope you will reach out to your supervisor or all of the supervisors to voice your preferences on how the budget should be structured this year.
I have sat through almost every single board of supervisors meeting for the last six years, and I can tell you that some of the most common phrases I hear them utter are: “I heard from my residents that …” or “I wish we had more people here to speak on this important topic.” Usually the latter is about the budget.
Your voice matters.
While I am on this soapbox, I am also going to bring up the huge looming issue of the schools. So many families have been impacted this year already by the closing of the schools for the last several weeks of the school year. Now guidance from the state implies getting back to school as we know it – full-time, in-person instruction – is not even on the horizon. As Dr. Eric Jones, superintendent, pointed out, when the state sent out its huge document on the subject of reopening, that option, which he referred to as Phase 4, wasn’t even a consideration and there was no timeline for when it would be an option.
But if you tuned into the school board’s meeting on June 16, you would have heard from plenty of parents who are distraught, confused, and angry over the options they have been given for the start of the new school year. School staff received 23 pages worth of emails from parents, students, and staff on this topic ahead of the meeting, and, because the school board wanted to give them a voice, they had staff members read all 23 pages.
Your voice matters.
The school division wants to hear from Powhatan employees and families who will be part of the coming school year. Staff and the school board want to know who is comfortable with distance learning and who needs to have their children back in school full-time. They sent out a survey to gather information on the topic, and the results of that survey will be given to a task force that has been set up specifically to deal with this issue. The survey has closed, but people can still reach out to their school division to weigh in on the issue.
Your voice matters.
And, as was pointed out at the school board meeting, where people’s voices really need to be heard is at the state level. Whether it is letting the individual school divisions have more flexibility to decide how they will reopen or allowing waivers for localities that haven’t been hit as hard by COVID-19, those kinds of decisions are made at the state level. Jones suggested reaching out to Atif Qarni, the secretary of education, or Dr. James Lane, superintendent of public instruction. The governor’s office and the Virginia Department of Health also are huge stakeholders in these decisions.
Yeah, it’s that important, so I’ll say it again: Your voice matters.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.