At last week's League of Women Voter's meeting, three former Macon County Commissioners volunteered their time for a Q & A forum. Allan Ricky Bryson, Janet Greene, and Mark West all turned out to reminisce about serving the county in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Noticeably absent from the line up was former commissioner Harold Corbin who, at the time of the forum was experiencing health issues, passing away Wednesday (June 18) morning. His son and present chairman of the county commissioners, Kevin Corbin attended the meeting to represent him.
“I went by and saw dad before I came and he had me write down a few things,” said Corbin. “He wanted me to tell you three how much he appreciated his time serving with you all. One of the things he said was, 'you know they talk about working across the aisle to get things done, but we never had to do that because there was no aisle.”
A thought that was supported when it was pointed out that Corbin, a Republican, had been chosen to serve as chairman despite the Democratic majority.
“I came on to the board and I was scared to death,” said Greene. “Luckily, Harold would take us under his wing and walk us through everything.”
Keeping with the theme of bi-partisanship, the former members discussed highlights of their tenure, focusing on the beginning phases of school construction that began back in 1998.
“One of the things we took pride in was being able to communicate with the public well,” Greene told the assembly.
When plans started to develop and community schools like Otto Elementary School began to close, disgruntled residents began to voice their opinions about the plan to move students closer to the city limits.
“Most of the community schools were on septic tanks. They were unsustainable. They needed to be on city sewer. Once you explained this to people, they still didn't like it maybe, but they did understand why it had to be done.”
But the board members who served between 1998 and 2004, accomplished more than just putting in new schools and to do so, they had to work together. According to Bryson, most of the big decisions saw the board in agreement.
“Things have changed since we were all on the board,” Bryson said. “When it came to the big decisions, we hardly ever disagreed. If we did, it was usually a philosophical issue.”
“You see partisanship more and more on the federal level and maybe a little less on the state level but it's still there,” Corbin interjected. “(U.S.) Congressman Mark Meadows who is a friend of mine, said in Washington it's wild. He said you'll go into your office and there will be a bill on your desk with a note from your party leadership saying whether you should support it or not. You know, we don't have to deal with that at a local level thankfully.”
Current Town of Franklin Alderman Barbara McRae offered up the questions and in closing, asked the former commissioners if they would ever want their children to pursue an elected office if the situation were to ever arise.
All three reflected on their time on the board in a positive light, agreeing that if young people wanted to pursue an office then they should.
“If that is what they wanted to do and it was for the right reasons then I would support it,” said West. “I think we need some new ideas anyway.”
The three agreed that it was a positive experience, begging the question, would any of them consider running again? Bryson and West were noncommittal on the issue, but Greene went a little more in depth with her response.
“When women run for office, it's usually because of an issue that they are passionate about,” said Greene, who was once the highest vote getter in a commissioner race. “If there was an issue that I felt so strongly about, then yes, I would run again.”
In closing, members of the audience approached the panel, some to reminisce about past experiences they had with the board. LWV member Susan Ervin spoke of a change of heart she once had as a result of dealings with the senior Corbin.
“I had always been a registered Democrat,” she said. “But I changed to an independent because of Harold Corbin. There was a primary and I wanted to vote for him so I switched to independent. Because of Harold, I decided to stay registered as an independent because on a local level, it just makes sense.”
Corbin was a central theme of the league’s meeting, with each former commissioner praising him for the work he did, the help that he gave them with their own roles, and the compassion that he showed for the electorate he was tasked with serving.
The next LWV meeting will take place on July 10 at Tartan Hall of the First Presbyterian Church at 12 noon. Attendees are invited to bring a lunch.