With City Council’s recent decision to take the next step forward with their plans to demolish the current City Hall and build a multimillion new one, a line has been crossed. The time for talk is over, it is time to show.
To summarize; at the March City Council meeting, council voted to have the architect and builder give a firm estimate of how much a new City Hall would cost.
Council agreed that after that estimate, a public input session would then be held to hear what the citizens thought about the project. At the next Council meeting, the builder and architect presented the estimate. It was $7.7 million for the building, $550,000 for the architect’s fee, and then with furnishings and other costs, the total cost was $9.5 million. That estimate by the architects cost Laurinburg citizens $108,000. At last week’s meeting, however, Council changed their mind about holding a public input meeting. Instead, they voted to spend another $120,000 to see if the architect and builder could bring the cost down. Therefore, council will not allow citizen input until they have already spent $225,000 of the public’s money on this. Of course, council may change their minds again, and spend more money before allowing public comment.
These actions by council should not come as a surprise. At Laurinburg’s yearly citizen input session in February, the council member running the meeting explicitly told the citizens not to mention the new City Hall project. In March, Pastor Edds was dismissed from his position as Laurinburg police chaplain after he spoke out against the new City Hall. Then, at this past council meeting, another council member said she had personally not heard of any citizen who was against a new City Hall.
Council’s actions and words show that they are not listening to and do not want to hear from the citizens. Over the past six months, a parade of professionals, pastors, former elected officials, professors, parents and other citizens have made their feelings known directly to council. Every one expressed strong opposition to a new City Hall. There have been newspaper editorials against this project, there has been an avalanche of negative comments on social media, and former Mayor Parker lost largely because of this issue. From what I have seen and heard, there is nary one single citizen of this city (other than City Council or city staff), who is in favor of this project.
This brings me back to the line that has been crossed. That line is the line that separates representative government from abuse of power. There is no point in citizens coming out to council meetings or writing editorials. Council is not listening. They don’t want the public’s opinion on how to spend the public’s money. When this line has been crossed, that is, when elected officials spend the citizen’s money without their consent, when elected officials don’t listen to the people who elected them, then the only option for the people is to change the elected officials. Three of the five council seats will be up for re-election just over a year from now. It is doubtful that there is enough time to get a new building up in this amount of time. And if they try, I would suggest that before they try that,they take a short trip across another line — the state line to Bennettesville.
There, on Highway 9 just down from the hospital, now overgrown with weeds, is the poured concrete slabs of the last building in this area that was attempted to be built against the citizen’s wishes. The citizens threw them out of office and put to final rest their grand plans for a building the citizens didn’t want.
Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.