EDITORIAL: It doesn’t take 56 hours to respect your residents

By: The Editorial Board

County Manager Bryan Land last week made a show of his distaste for the petition for county water signed by roughly 430 Richmond County residents before the Board of Commissioners, calling it “disturbing” and “sensational”, and accusing the petitioners of gaining signatures by “harassing” their neighbors.

What’s so disturbing about a petition for county water?

The petitioners took issue with the county’s Old Cheraw Water Main Extension project, claiming that it excluded some residents and gave preference to private interests, namely the poultry farms in the area. Some of the leaders of the petition were quoted in the Daily Journal with conspiratorial questions about the waterline, and ultimately 96 percent of those who signed were already receiving municipal water.

Their stated reason for signing, as printed on the top of the page that was presented to the county, was to step forward as “concerned citizens urging our leadership to act now to allow needed county water for the citizens of the Wolf Pit #4 community.” The text of the petition also refers to the history of Wolf Pit #4 community specifically, which has petitioned for county water for more than 20 years.

The petition amounted to 10 households being notified of the cost of having county water run out to their homes, which was in the tens of thousands of dollars for several of them.

However, nowhere in the petition does it imply that every one of the signatories expected county water to be coming out of their faucets, yet Land, acting on such a rigid interpretation of county regulations that he disregarded all reason, directed county staff to spend a total of 56 hours, by his count, to verify the address and water service status of every person who signed.

It’s an admirable effort, even if done out of spite.

In an interview after the meeting, Preston Waddell, the first signature on the petition, said that the petitioners were simply in support of the Wolf Pit residents who want county water and conceded that they did not know that the county would be forced to verify every person’s address.

Why would they be expected to know the specifics of the county’s policy? The general understanding of a petition, like one that you may be asked to sign walking down the street, is that it’s merely a statement of support for a cause, not a direct demand for personal services that conscripts your public servants to over two days of tedious labor.

How can you fault 430 citizens from across the county who wanted something done for other Richmond County residents? This kind of engagement deserves to be applauded rather than mocked.

Common sense would say that it’s highly unlikely that there are 430 people — if that many people even live in Wolf Pit — who all got together in one voice to demand county water, barring some kind of crisis. Common courtesy would say to give the petitioners a simple phone call.

Even if the petitioners had gone on the county website, clicked on the “Document Center” tab, scrolled down to the Water Services folder, clicked on the “2018-2019 water regulations changes file” and then searched for “petition”, the policy still doesn’t say that the only people who can sign a petition for water are people who need it themselves.

Section III of the Richmond County Extension Policy states, “The petition must state the area and/or road number requesting the service, distance and number of customers. The petition must be signed by every member of household requesting County water.”

Land and the county staff, in their research, did verify that there are no water quality issues in the area, only low yields of between two-and-a-half and four gallons per minute. This, along with the material need of water customers like poultry farms, who use enough water to make a costly waterline like this one worth the trouble, suggests that yes, some of the outrage over the issue is overblown.

But when it comes to the County Manager’s posture towards the people he serves, it would be nice to see more understanding.

The Editorial Board