Be civil. Work together.
Two weeks ago, an estimated 73 million Americans tuned in to watch the first presidential debate of the 2020 election season. For two hours, they watched as Donald Trump and Joe Biden spoke over one another, hurled insults back and forth and ultimately failed to provide clear and coherent solutions to the problems facing the United States.
In the final estimation, the first presidential debate was a debacle and an embarrassment to this country, representative of an overall lack of civility, compromise and cooperation that makes headlines daily in the national political scene. It was a reflection of the division and dysfunction that has come to define government in 2020.
Last week, a similar scene of political turmoil played out on a smaller scale in the boardroom of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners. At issue were five deputy sheriff positions at the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
Speaking in the political language of our times, Beaufort County Sheriff Ernie Coleman accused commissioners of attempting to “defund” law enforcement, while also laying out the reasons why those five deputy positions are necessary. Commissioners and county administrators, meanwhile, framed the issue as a budget decision that has impacted county departments across the board.
That’s all well and good. When it comes to political issues, it’s natural that elected officials don’t always see eye-to-eye, because they are often viewing the same issue from different angles. That’s where compromise and cooperation comes into play and becomes so important to a functional system of government.
But that’s not what happened last week. Instead, we saw an example of local politics breaking down, to no one’s benefit.
In an open meeting, Commissioner Hood Richardson personally insulted the sheriff, calling him “a coward” for not showing up to speak on behalf of the BCSO. In a later interview, Richardson claimed that Coleman was behaving like “a child” and had to be dealt with accordingly.
The sheriff, asked in an interview last week what it will take for the BCSO and county commissioners to work together functionally, said that would be possible when Hood Richardson was no longer on the board. On a broader scale, he accused commissioners of playing politics with the safety of Beaufort County residents.
For years, the back and forth between the sheriff’s offices and county boards of commissioners has been a point of contention in county politics throughout the state. County sheriffs have a responsibility to protect local residents from crime. Commissioners have a responsibility to ensure those offices have the tools and manpower they needs to do so. Both have a responsibility to keep the spending of taxpayer money in check.
Our message to all elected officials — national, state and local — is this: disagreements on policy should not stop you from attempting to work with the other side for the betterment of your constituents. To put it simply, be civil and work together.