What a difference a week makes.
Lincoln Countyâ€™s Board of Commissioners could have convened Monday, stubbornly determined to ignore the overwhelming message they received last week at a boisterous and explosive public hearing, confident that with no one present this time to offer public comment on any subject, the peopleâ€™s interest had evaporated and the government could get on with business as usual. They would have been incorrect to make such assumptions, but elected officials elsewhere often have done essentially the same under similar circumstances.
But thatâ€™s not what happened. The commissioners, it seems, were paying attention last week.
As they approached the process of fixing a package of rules that has become a symbol of everything people despise in overreaching government action, the commissioners could have acted cynically out of self-preservation, making only superficial fixes.
It is difficult to know someoneâ€™s true motives, but the evidence this week, is that they did not do this. From their remarks, their convincing expressions of frustration with the very real problems the public pointed out in the proposed overlay districts and the Unified Development Ordinance, the commissioners â€” all of them â€” care about doing what is right for the people.
The commissioners could have proceeded in a tense atmosphere full of animosity and factional divides based on ideology or geography.
But aside from a few humorous remarks aimed at one another, the atmosphere was instead one of sincere discussion in an effort to reach a solution agreeable to all. Even when votes were divided this week, it was often a question of degrees and timing, and not of ill will between board members.
The UDO as it was passed last year, will never take effect. The document that will go into effect this summer will be drastically amended to correct typographical mistakes, illegal provisions, confusing language, measures that should never have been applied countywide and other problems that may be yet to come to light. Weâ€™ll pass judgment on the final version of the UDO when we see it.
But the original UDO was not the result of nearly as deliberative a process as it should have been. Following a much shorter period than most counties and cities allow for such a complicated undertaking, the ordinance was hastily passed just before Novemberâ€™s elections. Written by consultants whose abysmal ignorance of the law in North Carolina and the basic rules of the English language warrants strong action by the county to hold them accountable for their negligence and incompetence, the fast-tracked measure was a disaster and it is fortunate that the county has moved to put the brakes on it.
The UDO, to be certain, was started toward its rapid passage moving down a road paved with the best intentions. But we all know where that road leads. Commissioners last week found themselves descended into a sweltering inferno of public condemnation as a result. They could have abandoned all hope and sulked in the gloom of the creeping chaos they had unwittingly helped to orchestrate.
But the commissioners have responded to the publicâ€™s fire-and-brimstone altar call with the zeal to make things right, pressing onward without bitterness for the betterment of the entire county. And that is their saving grace.
by Frank Taylor