Bravo for Regina Buccafusco.
Columbia County's District 1 School Board trustee, once the most outspoken member of the board before the election of Lee Muns, has won a free-speech quest on behalf of the public.
Clearly disappointed at not getting elected board chairman in the trustees' first meeting of the year Jan. 5, Buccafusco nonetheless moved ahead with her second action item: Setting up forums throughout the year to improve public dialogue with the school board.
We've talked before about the difficulty members of the public have in making a case to the board. Though there is time for public comment set aside in the board's twice-a-month meetings, speakers are limited to just three minutes. Trustees and other school officials rarely directly respond.
The County Commission, in contrast, sets aside 10 minutes (which is probably on the long side) for each speaker. And commissioners often ask questions or make comments in response.
The county government also is set up with four committees that hear every issue before it's put on the county's twice-a-month meeting agenda. Anyone interested in a topic can bring it up not only at the full commission, but earlier at the committee level. Zoning issues, which are particularly contentious, come first to the Planning and Zoning Board where citizens can give input before the issue goes to the Commission for approval.
To fix the perceived input gap, Buccafusco suggested setting up five forums during the year, one in each trustee's district. The other trustees agreed, and the first forum will be held soon.
Will anyone show up? Will anyone have anything to say that takes more than three minutes?
Who knows? At least they'll get the opportunity, and that's what counts.
More Belair traffic?
Speaking of opportunities, the Columbia County school system is taking a shot at building the county's newest elementary school. They're buying part of a 41-acre site off Furys Ferry Road in Evans, one of the remaining parcels belonging to the Gardner family.
The once-huge farm has been sold off in pieces over the past few years; one parcel provided land for the Eagles Landing subdivision on Mullikin Road, and another will soon be the site of a 190-home development.
The new school site adjoins the rear of Riverside Middle School and connects to Conn Drive, which joins Mullikin about half a mile from Furys Ferry Road. Like the county's other multiple-school sites - the Lakeside/Blue Ridge campuses and the Greenbrier schools - traffic will sometimes be a problem; Riverside already snarls the Furys Ferry intersection at Belair and Mullikin intersection. (For those unfamiliar with the area, Belair becomes Mullikin when it crosses Furys Ferry.)
While parent complaints about traffic are to be expected, what may be a surprise is that residents on North Belair, who have long fought a Department of Transportation plan to widen their two-lane road, could face new pressure if the opening of the new school and addition of the new subdivision drastically boosts traffic.
After successfully winning the battle to keep North Belair rural to protect their homes, the residents may lose the war if the DOT decides a wider road is needed to accommodate all the traffic from the new school.
By the way: This is a good time to again lament the lack of impact fees in Columbia County. With funds from such a fee, the county could raise enough money to build a sidewalk on Mullikin Road. Then, children wouldn't have to walk to school on the side of a street that will get nearly 800 extra vehicles per day as a result of that one housing development - a development that instantly became more valuable the second the school site was chosen.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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