Commissioners manage to unite people in opposition

One of the things noticed but not discussed concerning last week’s 5-3 vote by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners to continue negotiations to buy the Angel Exchange building was that it was along racial lines.

The three American Indians and two blacks voted in favor, and the three whites against.

This is where the conversation was always going to descend.

As we said in October, much to the dismay of many in Lumberton, we would not rule out the central office at COMtech based on the zip code, but it had to suit the system’s needs and be the choice of the school board. The school board remains split on the issue, and the lines — at least so far — are not racial.

Our finger has been wagging at Chairman Raymond Cummings and Commissioners Roger Oxendine, Berlester Campbell and Jerry Stephens, but the school board, which is chronically split, is not blameless. That board’s division has resulted in inadequate progress toward not only securing a central office, but building a new school — a delinquency that could imperil available state funding.

We continue to believe that the commissioners have overplayed their hand. People are angry at how this came together, a vote on a non-agenda item to spend $6 million for a central office without having first shared that plan with the school board or its administrators, and doing so with one commmissioner absent who represents 15,000 people in and near Lumberton.

But then the lies began, and they continue. When Cummings speaks of buying Angel Exchange, he never mentions the cost of upfitting, which could run into the millions, but is unknown because no one has bothered to figure out what is a huge factor in the algebra, nor does he mention it comes without a planetarium or bus garage, which had been part of the original plan that might have been too grand.

If the commissioners believe Angel Exchange is really the best option, then they should have included the school board and administrators in that conversation, taken the case to the public, and let it soar or sink on its merits. And stop already with the lie that time is of the essence because there is an interested buyer. There isn’t, and no one believes there is. And if there were, then the county should step aside and allow the sale to a private entity that could enhance COMtech and pay taxes.

On Tuesday night, the Board of Education is expected to vote yea or nay on whether it would move the central office to COMtech, and if the vote is against, we are told that the county can’t force the move. But the commissioners, who have never funded the school system even in the ballpark of adequately, are a vindictive lot, so don’t be surprised if they refuse to chip in when asked to help with a central office or even a new school.

If the commissioners then proceed with the purchase of Angel Exchange, they will expose themselves as nothing but a den of liars, and this will have been about moving stuff from the county seat and to Pembroke. A lot of money has already been spent at BB&T, which came at a bargain price and sits a few feet from the courthouse.

The best solution remains obvious. Leave the central office at Angel Exchange as long as that can be, which with a three-month option is Oct. 31 — about two months shy of the projected move-in date for BB&T.

Then move staff into the vacated county administrative building so time can be had to figure all this out. We still like the idea of the school system using FEMA and insurance dollars to buy and build or renovate on Elm Street, and then to kick that money back to the school system to help with the cost of a new school.

While the commissioners remain divided by race, the single-minded defiance of four of them has had a wonderful and welcome effect — unifying people of all colors in this county as one against their plan.