March 4, 2014
On Feb. 3, Concerned Citizens for Pickens County began a petition for the removal of the Pickens County School Board in its entirety. On Feb. 20, Gov. Nikki Haley’s office informed the group her office was incapable of making any changes to the board’s makeup without some act of criminality having been committed. On Feb. 24 the organization withdrew its petition.
For Pickens County residents, voters, taxpayers and students, this is the best that could possibly have happened. Yes, if the petition had been a successful move, new elections would have been ordered and pandemonium would have ensued. Now, democracy as it was intended may play out and with what is at stake it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The board has an election scheduled for April 1 to fill the seat vacated by former Chairman Ben Trotter following his resignation, presenting the perfect opportunity for the stakeholders of the county to make a difference as a whole. Where the pressure to make changes on the part of the board’s governance was brought to bear by the petition, the election to fill the seat could change the board’s political makeup in the short-term, and lead to change and growth over the long-term.
Since AdvancEd, the body responsible for auditing school districts within the state for meeting accreditation standards, called Pickens County’s school board on the carpet, the community has voiced its opinions rather strongly about the board’s historical performance and its fears for the future. Now this community will discover something about itself.
Will Pickens County see the end of the petition movement as the death knell for change, or will taxpayers and voters respond in a way the Founding Fathers of this nation had in mind, by actually going to their local ballot box and casting a vote?
Generally speaking, off-year elections and called elections have extremely poor turnouts. In this case, a low number of voters going to the polls to fill the board seat will be seen as support for the status quo to continue as it has in the past. A low voter turnout will also be a statement on all of us.
While a petition drive, if legally valid, would have been one solution to the issues at hand, a true and real debate by viable candidates in a unique position to make a real difference will in the long run lead to lasting results.
The political process, when executed correctly, does indeed work and often leads to positive results. It’s a longer, more uphill battle involving campaigning, asking questions, getting to know the candidates, canvassing, phone calls, and stirring the masses to your cause over long, thankless hours. But, in the end, the candidate which fills Trotter’s seat will have something no petition could provide: legitimacy.
For Pickens County and our school board, April 1 doesn’t have to be April Fool’s Day. But if no one votes, that will speak for itself.