Our View: Forum was step toward honest talks

Published 11:36 am Friday, September 28, 2018

The community voter forum hosted by Better Together Winchester Thursday did an excellent job of laying the groundwork for more of the difficult conversations that need to be had with elected officials in our community.

The forum offered a safe and open environment for candidates to talk about things like inequitable distribution of funds, services, code enforcement and more.

Candidates tackled questions like, “Do you believe that city codes are equitably enforced in all parts of the city and against all property owners? If yes, how would you see that continues? If not, what would you do to address this disparity?” and “If elected, how would you address the economic disparity and support the revitalization of Winchester so all residents have equal access to and opportunity when it comes to community services?”

While the questions were each thoughtful, we thought many of the candidates failed to accurately and sufficiently answer the toughest parts of the questions.

Most candidates offered concrete ideas and we must comment on how civil and lively the discussions were. But, generally, the issues at the heart of the forum — inequality, racial divides, unheard voices and how to address them — were avoided.

The moderators, Pastor Marvin King of First Baptist Church and local attorney Mary T. Yeiser did an excellent job of steering the candidates back in the appropriate direction, though.

There came a point in the forum that Mayor Ed Burtner mentioned he thought there would be more discussion about divides in the community and how to address them. We must admit, we were on the same page with the mayor.

Discussion leading up to the forum indicated the candidates would be asked to look at some of the often undiscussed issues facing our community.

We were starting to feel a little disappointed.

But, King clarified the reason for this.

“The reason that this forum is not directly dealing with race and the cultural divide of our community, the unspoken words that permeate in our community … is because we recognize the anxiety and the discomfort that many of our candidates have in addressing this issue,” he said. “It is not our goal to cause you to feel any angst or anxiety concerning the issues of race, class, culture in our community. They are what they are and are what they have been.

“It is our job tonight to merely bring to light the issues in our community and to allow you to see the diverse constituency in which you will be serving if you are elected. To let you know that you can no longer placate to your base but you must deal with every citizen in this community.”

King went on to say that Better Together Winchester will invite all of those who are elected in November back to the same stage “to address directly, in more detail and more robustly the issues of race and your strategy, your vision and your plan to alleviate this problem and to get everyone to the table and to learn how to play well in the sand box.”

We look forward to that forum.

These are tough discussions to have, but they are necessary. They are truly the only way we will continue to bridge the divides that hold our community back from reaching its fullest potential.

When neighbors can’t work together for the common good because they are more focused on what makes them different, that is when communities fail.

The solutions must start at the top — with the people making policy, distributing funds, enforcing codes and representing the people.

This community voter forum laid the perfect foundation for those deep conversations, and we look forward to being part of them.