EDITORIAL: Departure of Womack, Parks means change

Mar. 13, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Greater interest in local policy making has resulted in, among other things, a pretty full slate of candidates seeking office in the coming May primaries and November’s general election in Lee County. Voters here will see more contested races than what is typical for a non-presidential ballot, always a good sign that democracy in a republic is working the way it’s designed to.

But as noteworthy this election year is the fact that two well-known names won’t be on the ballot: in the race for Lee County Commission board, neither Jim Womack (elected to the District 4 seat in 2010) nor board Chairman Charlie Parks (elected to the District 2 seat the same year) is seeking re-election.

Their decisions, announced separately as the filing period ended almost two weeks ago, weren’t a major surprise. But their departure after this year’s board term is over guarantees changes — likely quite significant — in the way the group functions.

With Womack and Parks, the board had a certain fastidiousness. They were willing to be unpopular in the pursuit of fiscal control and the name of conservatism. But in doing so, the board’s general notions of compromise and cooperation — things not often included in the Republican majority’s playbook — pretty much went out the window, or were at least relegated to a minor role in their collective governance.

There were important exceptions, of course, including making alterations to the county’s economic incentives policies at the request of the Sanford-Lee County Partnership for Prosperity’s steering committee (of which Parks has been a valuable member; Womack also has made noteworthy contributions). But as a general rule, the feeling that Womack, at least, was willing to run roughshod over those who disagreed with the board’s policies, practices or ideas is undeniable. His acerbic nature — particularly in online postings — is evidence of that.

Still, the board’s fiscally conservative focus was needed. They promised great fiscal oversight and in ways delivered. Womack famously pledged during his campaign that if someone would give him a knife, he’d gladly make cuts — and he has shown that not much is sacred when it comes to the bottom line. He and Parks championed fiscal accountability, even if Womack did manage to get on the bad side of nearly every other entity with which the commissioners must work closely — the city, the schools, etc.

Four years ago, when we endorsed Womack’s candidacy for the board of commissioners, we said that his “sometimes less-than-cordial approach to discussing issues doesn’t always play well in a county where voters often put ‘personality’ right up there with ‘effectiveness.’” We also speculated that, if elected, Womack would bring debate and more analysis to a board that sorely needed it.

That all proved to be true. Controversy was also a staple on the buffet served up by Womack & Co., and with it, more animosity. Sometimes you take the bad with the good, but there was a collective sigh of relief by many (in both political parties) when Womack bowed out of seeking a second term. Some political watchers will miss some elements of that when he makes his departure from the board (remember, he’ll be active on the state’s Mining and Energy Commission for another year or so), but what we’re looking forward to most of all is the reintroduction of a sense of rapport and cordiality amongst our elected leaders. You can get things done that way, too.