Right and wrong  ways to fight back

Published 5:46 pm Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Anger toward the Smithfield Town Council over its decision to allow the construction of 800-plus homes off Battery Park Road is best directed to the ballot box, where elected officials are regularly accountable for their actions or inaction.

Less impressive to us, and indeed harmful to the cause of attracting qualified people to elected service, are the calls — shouted during last week’s council meeting and now making the rounds on social media — to inflict personal financial retribution on the council members who supported rezoning the Mallory Scott Farms land.

So-called “cancel culture” as a tool for political revenge has run amok in this country, and we’re sorry to see it come to Smithfield, even as we acknowledge citizen frustration over a controversial rezoning that stands to swell the town’s population by 25% over the next decade.

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“Boycott the Station” — directed at Town Councilman and Planning Commission Chairman Randy Pack — may or may not cause the restaurateur to vote differently on future rezonings, but it’s certain to make business people, or anyone else whose livelihood could be harmed by public pressure, think twice about offering themselves for public service in future elections.

Finding qualified candidates is a challenge already. Two members of the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors — the Hardy District’s Rudolph Jefferson and the Carrsville District’s Don G. Rosie II — will run unopposed in the fall because no one else qualified to seek their seats. Perhaps that is simply a credit to Jefferson’s and Rosie’s popularity with their constituents, but it’s also an unhealthy sign in a representative democracy, which functions at its best when voters have choices.

Most candidates for elected office at the local level understand that they are subject to criticism, sometimes vehement, for their policy decisions. Many are willing to take that heat. Few, though, will risk their family’s financial security in service to their community.

It would be ironic if voters looking to oust Mayor Carter Williams and council members Pack, Valerie Butler, Renee Rountree and Beth Haywood for their Mallory Scott votes had no one else to choose from on the ballot.