It’s time for a county commission with a spine

Oct 7, 2009

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Back in July, by a split of 13-11, county commissioners voted to ultimately spend $100,000 on a special referendum to the voters to decide whether a new Lebanon High School and property for a new Watertown High School was worth a $25 wheel tax increase.

Those 13 were: Mike Justice, Fred Weston, Jerry McFarland, Kenny Reich, Gary Tarpley, Billy Patton, Billy Rowland, Jeff Joines, Gilbert Graves, Adam Bannach, L.T. Jenkins, Bernie Ash and Paul Abercrombie. Those voting against it were: Larry West, Chris Sorey, Jim Emberton, Frank Bush, Bob Neal, Clint Thomas, Gary Keith, Annette Stafford, Eugene Murray, Heather Scott and Randy Hall. Don Franklin was absent.

To the 13 who voted for the referendum, we ask: Was this money wisely spent? Emphatically, we say, “No.” It was very simply a $100,000 cost squandered in an effort by certain county commissioners to preserve their jobs and duck an important issue – the building of a new Lebanon High School.

However, we didn’t find it shocking at the time (go back and read the July 24 house editorial), and we don’t today, because in the last two years alone, the county commission has continually turned a blind eye on virtually anything pertaining to our youth’s education:

Just since 2007, the county commission has done the following:

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Instead of providing the funds necessary to straighten out the curves on Curd Road leading to the new Mt. Juliet High School, the county court elected to spend $1 million (approximately the same amount needed for the road) on a horse arena at the James E. Ward Agriculture Center. This passes without the proposal having gone through the commission’s committee system as well. Do we have any idea how much revenue the new horse arena has generated since being completed? Bet it’s not anywhere near $1 million cost.

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The county commission’s Education Committee continually rejected sites for a new Lebanon High School submitted by the Board of Education – and often not for reasons pertaining to cost – which is actually the only veto power the county court possesses over the BOE. It took way too long and too much political wrangling to finally settle on the site for a new LHS.

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Also back in 2007 – after again bypassing the committee system – the county commission approves $600,000 for land adjacent to the landfill, with real questions surrounding whether it was really necessary to make the purchase at the time.

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Flash forward to this year, and the county commission elected to withhold $700,000 from the education budget so it could instead create a “rainy-day fund” for the county. This move was entirely unnecessary considering that there is $3.4 million sitting on the table for the county to collect – if it can get its act together and finalize the contracts for the sale of the land for the former Mt. Juliet Elementary School.

The county commissioners claim they didn’t want to give the school system the entire $1.4 million in projected growth funds for fear they would have to raise taxes next year to meet the state’s “maintenance of effort” law that requires school systems to be funded at the same monetary level year-to-year – if the economy doesn’t recover.

That’s nothing but political bull. The truth is next year is an election year and just as they did with the referendum vote, they’re trying to cover their political behinds.

The bottom line here is this: Lebanon needs and deserves a new high school. If you question this, go to our Web site at www.lebanondemocrat.com, click on the News button, go to Investigations and read and watch the four-part series on “The State of LHS.”

Our county commission’s spineless actions have sent a message loud and clear to not only the students and citizens of Lebanon, but all of Wilson County: a quality education for our youth ranks far down the hierarchy of priorities when compared to their own personal agendas.

This is nothing new. The county commission as a collective body has a history of shirking its responsibility to adequately fund and prepare for our school system’s growth throughout the years, and we say the time has come for a change.

Unless the county commission can find a way to cease being derelict in its duty regarding the proper funding of education – and specifically find a way to fund a new Lebanon High School within the next 10 months – we urge everyone to consider a clean sweep when it comes election day in August 2010.

When the August 2010 election rolls around for all 25 county commission seats, we will make sure the voters remember the cowardly actions of those 13 current commission who voted to put it to a referendum, along with the votes of any other commissioners who have stood against the schools throughout the years.

We have had enough of a county commission that has shown itself to be spineless when it comes to the hard decisions of adequately funding our education system. Come next August, we’ll know whether the voters feel the same way or not.

In the meantime, commissioners, rest assured that between now and then, we’ll make sure the voters know who has been a friend and who hasn’t of Lebanon High School and the school system in general.

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