With Augusta's government mired in racially divided gridlock and disillusioned residents moving west, it's easy to shake our heads in self-righteousness.
Before we get too smug, however, we'd better settle some of the disharmony around our own door.
Columbia County has long had an us-vs.-them problem. For years it was nothing more than the friendly rivalry between the county's two high schools, Harlem and Evans. But when the county's growth exploded three decades ago, the perception grew that the Martinez-Evans area was the "haves," while "have-nots" populated the rest of the county.
Much of this perception is false, fueled by growth patterns: The areas of the county nearest Augusta grew fastest, while remote rural areas barely saw a trickle of new residents.
Recent events, however, have reinforced feelings of unfairness.
First, commissioners are pursuing incorporation and consolidation of county government. That could hinder growth in Harlem and Grovetown.
Also, the initial plan to spend money from consolidation earmarks most of the money for Martinez-Evans. Lee Anderson's 4th District, which encompasses a quarter of the county's residents and more than half of the county's land mass, is penciled in to receive less than 4 percent of the fund. That hardly sounds fair.
Then, the county's swift decision to switch to a single provider for fire service left dozens of Appling-area volunteers feeling abandoned. It also caused the city of Harlem to end its fire service agreement with the county.
The rural areas, still waiting for the growth that will bring new water lines, will never have equal fire protection until water is more accessible - and the extension of water lines won't come any faster as long as new infrastructure money is disproportionately spent on the eastern tip of the county.
When lawmakers switched Columbia County from five commission districts to four to accommodate the at-large elected chairman, The News-Times suggested that Harlem and Grovetown be put into separate districts to allow the county's rural areas to have access to two commissioners. City officials rejected the idea, and the result is a single commissioner who is easily outnumbered on such us-vs.-them issues.
So, how do we fix our own problems before criticizing our neighbors?
Unity can't be forced by the creation of a single fire department or a consolidated government. It will come only when everyone recognizes that the county next door doesn't have a monopoly on divisiveness.
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