Now’s the time for leadership

Published 9:22 am Saturday, April 21, 2012

When the Southampton County Board of Supervisors took office earlier this year, it included four new members who rode in on a wave of anti-tax sentiment and were armed with an agenda focused solely on fiscal responsibility.

It’s an easy and popular campaign pledge to make, refusing to raise taxes and promising to drop the hammer on wasteful government spending, but it is a pledge that requires no courage at all to make. It’s kind of like running for senior class president on a platform of better snacks in the vending machines and an early dismissal every Friday. I don’t know a single soul who wants to pay more in taxes to support a bloated, inefficient government, so I rarely find myself admiring the courage of candidates who promise to cut taxes and government waste.

What does take courage is realizing that sticking to that pledge would require draconian cuts to essential services like public safety and education — and acknowledging that, unless the board secretly possesses a new stream of revenue it has yet to unveil to the rest of us, a tax increase might be the only solution.

Real leaders muster this type of courage when times demand it, and what is required in Southampton County government today is just that: leadership.

It will take leadership to acknowledge that, regardless of campaign promises made, eliminating 31 teachers and 38 staff positions from our schools isn’t creating a better future for the children of Southampton County; it is taking us backward after so much hard work has been done and progress has been made.

It will require leadership to understand that eliminating 27 deputies from the Sheriff’s Department won’t create a safer community with improved communication between law enforcement and citizens; it will jeopardize safety on our roads and welcome more crime to a 600-square-mile county that is already difficult to patrol and protect.

Leadership isn’t about digging in your heels and refusing to change course in an attempt to save political face. Leadership is about assessing the facts and making a decision that, regardless of how unpopular, is in the best interest of the future of Southampton County.

I don’t want my taxes to go up. And I don’t want any of my neighbors’ to go up, either. But we’re faced with decisions that will have real and lasting implications on this community for years to come.

What are at stake, frankly, are the quality of our schools and the safety of our streets. We heard a lot of tough talk from the new supervisors before taking office about the future of the county for our children and grandchildren. What we have yet to hear, however, are suggestions or solutions about how we make that future brighter. Simply taking a hard line on taxes is neither a suggestion nor a solution; it is merely drawing a line in the sand and daring someone to cross it.

They wanted this job— and promised that taking a hard line on taxes was how they’d help turn around Southampton County. Well, now that they’ve got the job, the time for tough talk is done; it’s time for solutions now. We need for our leadership to show some courage, and over the next few weeks we’ll get to see who’s got some.

TONY CLARK is the general manager and advertising director at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at