Commissioners stumble when off their script

It was instructive — and, we admit, a bit amusing — to watch on Monday as several county commissioners found themselves off script. It helps to explain why these commissioners do their dirty work in the dark, because they aren’t very adept at thinking on their feet.

Commissioner Jerry Stephens, to his credit, broke from the ranks on Monday when he clumsily threw a curveball, asking that the county over five years contribute $25,000 to the Raymond Pennington Athletic Complex, which had just played host to the Dixie Youth World Series. Stephens, who even appeared apologetic while stumbling toward making a motion, pointed out that the event was an economic boost for all of the county, not just Lumberton, and that the commissioners should give financial support to a future effort to return the event to the city.

We knew when we heard the request that it was DOA, but it was fun watching Commissioners Raymond Cummings, Berlester Campbell, Roger Oxendine and, disappointingly, Lance Herndon, assume a deer-in-the-headlights look while trying to explain why this just could not be done. We all know why it could not be done.

But first, let’s put in perspective how much $5,000 is to the county government.

— You have to multiply it by 3,000 to reach the county’s annual budget of about $150 million.

— It is one-sixth of the amount of discretionary money each commissioner is given each year to pass around as they please without a public vote.

— It is one/1,200th of the amount of money Cummings, Oxendine and Campbell appeared eager to spend on a building for a central office that was priced at double its value, had little utility and was not wanted by the school system.

— It is $3,400 less than each county commissioner is paid in a year as a travel stipend, whether or not the miles are logged or not. And at 50 cents for every mile logged, a commissioner would have to travel almost 50 miles a day, every day of the month, to earn a $700 reimbursement.

— The total request of $25,000 is approximately the amount the board chairman, Cummings, receives each year as salary and stipend for essentially a part-time job.

Cummings, Campbell, Oxendine and Herndon instead said their opposition was a matter of fairness, pointing out that recreation facilities owned by the county are in varying states of disrepair. That is true — and where should the blame be placed for that? The commissioners.

Cummings said Pembroke had hosted a World Series event — it did not, but this was less a lie than him just being uninformed — and the county had not given it a chunk of change. Well, Mr. Chairman, you do know if you had made the motion it would have passed since you run the board, correct?

A better answer would have been, yes, we will provide the $25,000 to a viable recreation facility, and then try to put money in county facilities to bring them to life.

Stephens forced a conversation that once again exposed the priorities of those who run the board, and it’s clear that up-to-date recreational facilities, like our school system, isn’t something the leadership considers to be important. But at the same time, our commissioners continue as the best paid and benefited commissioners in North Carolina, they continue to exploit discretionary money unavailable to any other commissioners in the state, and they continue to stand against the local Tax Office in its efforts to collect past-due taxes.

Stephens, in making the motion, provided this newspaper an opportunity to once again remind county residents and voters what matters to the leadership on this board — and what doesn’t.

Stephens, we suspect, got a tongue-lashing when all was said and done. We doubt this sheep strays far from the flock any time soon.