All voices needed

Published 12:10 am Friday, October 28, 2011

Two weeks ago, Golden LEAF Foundation representatives rolled into town, flashing $2 million. The meeting, the first of six, was open to the public and informational in content. Dan Gerlach and Patricia Cabe, president and vice president of the foundation, respectively, laid out the rules and requirements for making sure the $2 million stays in Beaufort County, boosting the local economy and creating sustainable and much-needed jobs. Only nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations and governmental entities need apply for the grant money reserved for Beaufort County, supplied by North Carolina’s share of the 1998 settlement between Big Tobacco and the states.

Many representatives from area nonprofits and governmental entities were sitting shoulder to shoulder in that meeting when they learned about the catch (and there is always a catch): to obtain the money, it’s going to take cooperation. The needs represented by each person present would have to take a back seat to the real needs of an entire county: jobs, infrastructure, more jobs. What began as a reconnaissance mission to size up the competition quickly became involuntary assignment to a community-wide task force.

The larger community of Beaufort County was certainly recognizable in the familiar faces of the audience. Beaufort County Schools showed up in battalion numbers, as did the Bath High School Preservation folks. Dogwood Ministries, the Beaufort County Arts Council, the Washington Harbor District Alliance and the Turnage Theater were represented. Five of the seven county commissioners were there.

Education, preservation, salvation, taxation — the question was not whether these folks could all just get along, because, ultimately, they will. They have to. To decide how best to use $2 million for the betterment of Beaufort County, the Pungo Future Farmers of America will work with UHS — Beaufort Hospital; Acre Station Meat Farm will hammer out the details with Eagle’s Wings; the Historic Bath Foundation with Commissioner Hood Richardson; the Town of Washington Park, the Town of Bath, the Town of Belhaven, the City of … and therein lay the question of that night.

Noticeably absent from the meeting was representation from the City of Washington. Where were the councilmen, the city manager, the mayor?

In the information packets handed out that night were stated guidelines: “Proposals will be accepted from community, town, or county nonprofit organizations or governmental entities who have identified a project critical to improving the welfare of their citizenry. Preference will be given to proposals that reflect broad community support and engagement, motivated community leadership, and a process for evaluating the results.”

With $2 million on the line and an election right around the bend, the city needs to have a voice in the conversation that seems to have started without them. Only the voice of truly motivated community leadership, however, will do.