Here we go again.
That was my first thought upon entering Blackshear’s council meeting last week. January’s meeting was one for the record books and judging by the amount of folks crammed into the meeting room, I expected this one would be a doozy, too.
What I didn’t expect was the amount of passion and willingness to voice their opinions this group of Blackshear loving folks brought with them. The meeting never got too far out of control, but these residents didn’t sit quietly staring at their elected officials either.
Angela Manders, District Five resident, initially appeared to be the spokesperson for the group of more than 50 residents present as she urged the council to work together, put aside their differences and behave respectfully. She warned of the negative impacts to economic development and community growth when there is ongoing conflict between elected officials.
But, she wasn’t alone.
After the council voted down Jenny Grant’s appointment as city clerk — the only top candidate still in the running — others found their voices, too. One after another they stood to question their council members.
Will you start the hiring process over at the expense of city taxpayers?
Those questions were met at first with blank stares and no reply until Councilman Keith Brooks took up their cause too, pushing fellow council members Timmy Sapp, Shawn Godwin and Linda Gail Dennison to explain their actions.
The crowd pressed harder with cries of “what a joke” and “this isn’t how you do business.” Others stood to defend Grant’s job performance and ability to continue fulfilling the duties of city clerk. (She’s been acting as clerk since last September).
At the apex of their push, one man called for Councilman Godwin to step down, offering to run for the seat if he would do so. That suggestion was met with cheers and applause.
I sat on the front row scribbling furiously (thank Heaven for recording devices to verify my notes). I’ve attended hundreds of small town council meetings in my seven years as a weekly newspaper editor, first in Claxton and now back home, but I’ve never seen such activism from a community’s citizens — not even when Claxton received a “D” for their annual audit report and the city administrator retired in lieu of being terminated.
Blackshear is home.
This is where my husband and I intend to raise a family and grow old together, just like my parents and grandparents have done. These were my friends and neighbors standing up for what they believe in last Tuesday night, and I couldn’t have been more proud of their tenacity, courage and united front.
Is the fight over? Probably not.
Residents will need to pay close attention to the actions of their city council in the coming months and continue to speak up when they have concerns.
I couldn’t have said it better than Angela:
“The good, intelligent, business friendly, hospitable, and compassionate people of Pierce County will rally. We always do. Some of us may not have been paying close attention. Some of us didn’t show up to vote. Some of us trusted our elected officials a little too much, but we are awake now.”
Continue to be vigilant, and know, I’m very proud to work and serve in this community alongside all of you!
• Sarah Tarr Gove is news editor of The Blackshear Times. Email her at email@example.com.