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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Taking the script from Washington

During an hour-long discussion before they killed the Hendersonville High School construction project — throwing away $4.8 million in taxpayer money — Henderson County commissioners tried to explain why they were giving up.

It was revealing.
Commissioner Tommy Thompson, who had become the most vocal opponent of the project and the most dismissive of the desires of the Bearcat nation, said he slept well when he decided on the eve of the vote to pull the plug. It was all about the Stillwell building. That’s not actually true, since the School Board had previously acceded to the county commissioners’ demand to endorse the new-school option. In fact, days before the train wreck, Commissioner Bill Lapsley was still trying to broker a compromise that sidestepped the auditorium dispute with an agreement to use the Stillwell auditorium instead.
Lapsley said that the dispute came down to a gap between the cost of a 900-seat auditorium and a smaller one, implying that the county can’t afford the higher cost. Anyone who recalled the commissioners voting three times to spend anywhere from $3 million to $24 million on a law enforcement training center (with Lapsley dissenting) would suspect that, for once, it’s actually not about money. It’s not about principle either. It’s about trust. The two sides at war here — the School Board and the Board of Commissioners — have lost the ability to compromise because they’ve lost trust.
This has been an uneasy journey all the way but the slow-motion train wreck that we witnessed last Wednesday started back in May, when the School Board was told about a $12 million gap between what it thought it voted for — big auditorium, second gym — and what it would get. The School Board overreacted and the commissioners overreacted to the School Board’s overreaction. In May, the two sides could have, and should have, worked it out. School Board Chair Amy Lynn Holt wrote a letter to County Commission Chair Michael Edney on July 11 saying the School Board preferred the auditorium and second gym, at a cost of up to $65.2 million. Barring that, the School Board offered to “start from scratch.” Commissioners, especially Charlie Messer, perceived that as an ultimatum. Lapsley and Grady Hawkins joined Thompson and Messer in the vote to kill the project, leaving Edney a lonely voice of reason on a board now ruled by emotion instead of a regard for the public good and public money.
The commissioners and School Board can patch things up. But commissioners will do lasting damage if they follow through on their threat to sell the Boyd property. The idea is pointless and vindictive. It violates the spirit of the sale from the Boyd family in February 2011 and it forecloses every viable option for the least disruptive way to stage construction. Our elected leaders ought to reverse course on that decision, calm down and work things out.
The darkest hour comes before the dawn. We are not Washington. Washington revels in darkness. This is not us. We can resolve this and be our true selves again.