Benton is worthy of school board seat

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Monday night at the meeting of the Franklin City Council I spoke on behalf of David Benton’s candidacy for the school board. It seems since his last appointment, and as the publisher of The Tidewater News says, “fair or not, and for reasons largely beyond his control” David has become a divisive figure.

There is no doubt there are injustices and inequity in our society. But in such a world, in my opinion, no community has tried any harder to overcome the adversities associated with our history than the City of Franklin. Dr. A.B. Harrison was the first black mayor in Franklin over 30 years ago. We’ve had black and white school superintendents, black and white city managers, black and white principals, black and white church congregations, as well as black and white civic organizations for many years. Our clubs and neighborhoods integrated gracefully and without incident.

How is it then that we have come to this place where every decision seems to be colored by discussions of black and white rather than the qualifications of a candidate? How is it that we allow a newspaper publisher to conjure up headlines about “chicken dinners” when we all know in every walk of life “if you feed them, they will come”? How is it that an admittedly flawed appointment process could only be rectified by putting all school business on hold? The time and energy could have been channeled into something more meaningful than the hoopla over the use of the word “ghetto” to describe loose low slung pants. Even a black member of the General Assembly introduced a bill to ban such clothing several years ago.

If all members of the City Council had been talking about pure qualifications on that fateful night when a vote was taken immediately following the interview, there would have been no 4-3 racial split. There would have been no “shoving a Benton appointment down the throats of a minority.” If qualification was what it was about, there would have been unanimous acclaim to return David Benton to the school board. There would have been no media circus three months ago, if David Benton’s candidacy was based on merit.

Twenty years ago, David Benton was hired to help manage our growing business at Hubbard Peanut Co. I had known David when he was a 15-year-old kid working nights, weekends and holidays at the local Dairy Queen to save enough money for his own college education. Through his labors, he was able to earn a degree in accounting from one of our country’s most highly regarded academic institutions, the College of William and Mary. What a shining example he is for students who have a dream of college and only their drive and initiative to get them there.

Not only is David a hard worker, he is self-motivated. He is flexible. He is tenacious and willing to put in the sweat equity necessary to get the job done. Even today, despite the status of his job as plant manager, David Benton can be found pushing a pallet jack or a broom because no task is too menial for him.

David Benton does his homework. He is always prepared. He asks good questions, and is willing to keep digging until he fully understands the pros and cons around making a decision. He is detail oriented but can also view the big picture. These are important characteristics for a school board member who is held accountable to no one but the City Council once every three years.

David and some members of the Franklin School Board have openly disagreed. I imagine it is one of the reasons he has been a lightning rod for controversy. If he believes in something strongly, he will stand his ground, yet David is also open to compromise. As a business owner, I respect someone who can ask the hard questions, examine the difficult problems, is willing to make unpopular decisions, and yet will remain dedicated and motivated when a vote doesn’t go his way.

Few in this city have the experience and perspective or the time and energy it takes to be an effective school board member. In a recent column, the publisher of this newspaper, said there is strong belief among some on council that 10 years is long enough for one person to serve on the school board. I, for one, take exception to that statement. I believe part of the problem we have within our system is a lack of continuity of leadership, both on the board and in the position at the helm. A revolving door of school board members is a weak board that cannot effectively evaluate whether or not the administrators are doing their jobs. With the revolving door of short-termers, no strategic plan can be implemented successfully. No vision of the future can be seen to fruition.

Not only does Benton know the ins and outs of important school issues such as the budget process, his perspective as a parent and an employer is valuable. He cares deeply because his son is in the system, but also because he is responsible for hiring between 15-20 seasonal employees every year. He sees the toll it takes when a young man or woman drops out of high school.

Yes, we can replace Benton with someone else. But what does the City Council truly know about the next candidate? Benton walks the walk and has proven day after day, month after month, year after year that he is working for you. It is pure dedication driven from a deep-seated desire to do what’s best for the community he grew up in and all of its children.