This week’s Laurinburg City Council retreat was a real treat for fans of reality television.
There were expletives, snide comebacks and even reports of tearful exits. The only thing missing was someone upending a table.
Mayor Matthew Block, who arrived at Tuesday’s session late, had some in the audience whispering whether he would attend after blasting his fellow council members in that morning’s newspaper. The good doctor did not disappoint.
He accused the board of conspiring on various issues out of public view. The recent City Hall vote was evidence of that because, according to the mayor, the two council members free from election concerns — Curtis Leak and Mary Jo Adams — made the motion and second to build the new facility. He said that was something that had not happened in 100 other votes by council.
That shaky argument might make sense if the other council members — J.D. Willis, Dee Hammond or Drew Williamson — could have avoided voting altogether, but they all voted for construction and will still have to answer to voters for it.
When Williamson told Block that he had actually planned to make the motion himself, the mayor suggested that Williamson must have been out of the loop on the nefarious plan.
Willis asked where the idea for the so-called plan came from and Block replied that it was based on his knowledge of Willis’ two decades of political wheeling and dealing. Willis tried without much success not to cuss.
There was more fun.
While on the subject of ethics, Adams asked if everyone had taken part in the required ethics training.
Block wanted to know if that was an “honest question.” When Adams asked the mayor if he was in compliance, he recommended that she mind her own business.
Jean Klein, the retreat’s moderator from the Lumber River Council of Governments, tried to steer things back on course, but she got an earful from the mayor too. She made the mistake of affirming that all elected officials must take such training.
Block said Klein was likely in cahoots with “Mary Jo, your buddy at COG or whatever the hell it is.”
Council members for their part, tried to remind Block that they, not he, were running the show. They wanted to know if the mayor’s texting at meetings could be banned. It can’t.
Council also wanted the mayor to be made aware that instead of being the city’s rabble-rouser-in-chief, his sole responsibilities as outlined by the city attorney were to cut ribbons, kiss babies and take charge during a rabies outbreak.
Willis then doubled down on the fact that council would rather Block be seen and not heard by explaining that Laurinburg had a weak-mayor, strong-council form of government.
Block was not having it.
“The mayor is seen by the people, for good reason, as the leader of the city,” Block said “And that’s why they elected me… A weak mayor is not what I am.”
It is the kind of conflict that makes for great entertainment. Perhaps less great for good government.
That is not to say that elected officials have to agree on every issue. Our political process does not and should not work that way. Local governance can be messy as reasonable people offer different views on how to get from point A to point B. Everyone need not go along to get along, but getting along does go a long way in getting things done.
It is preferable to the rancor and vitriol that we now have gumming up the works. Name calling is no substitute for workable solutions to the problems that plague Laurinburg.
Real leadership means building consensus and seeking divergent viewpoints. Real leadership also means motivating everyone — and not just those who cheer us on — to be their best selves to do what is best for our city.
Until we get that, most of us will continue to watch with our mouths agape, like any bystander at a car wreck.
In terms of compelling theater, these clashes on council have been great productions. We wish they were more productive.