When Up & Coming Weekly Publisher Bill Bowman came to me in late 1999 with what he considered to be a wonderful idea, I did what I always do when talking to Bill. I tried to ground him.

It has been said many times over the years that Bill is the idea guy who keeps floating great ideas, and I am the person with the string who reels the balloon in. There is probably a lot of truth in that statement, more than I want to acknowledge. But I digress.

When he came to me with the idea of the Best of Fayetteville, his excitement was palpable. He was so excited and so passionate about it. So I had to listen, and, I have to say, it has turned out to be a good idea.

Bill was enamoured with the idea — not because of the money — but because of what it signified. The Best of Fayetteville is a means to honor and pay tribute to those businesses and organizations that contribute to making Fayetteville an amazing place to work, live and raise a family. Listening to Bill talk about his plan, I saw the goodness of allowing local residents to honor those folks who made life better in our community.

Having said that, it was not without its problems.

The first thing we had to tackle was ensuring that the voting was fair and that the ballot box was not stuffed. We spent quite a bit of time and energy talking to and listening to other media sources that had similar programs in their communities. We took the best practices and wrapped them all together to ensure that our Best of Fayetteville was as legitimate as possible.

That’s why we have several rules. You must fill out a percentage of the ballot for it to count. There has to be legitimate addresses and phone numbers on the ballot. We look at the handwriting to ensure that the same person didn’t fill out a gazillion ballots. Then, we even go a step further and have the ballots audited and verified by a CPA.

Some folks think we take it to the extreme, but why pretend that we are talking about the best of the best if we aren’t?

Once we were satisfied that the ballots were legit and our categories were right, we started doing our research and looking at what kind of information we could share with the community about our winners.

I will not lie. The weeks surrounding the Best of Fayetteville are far from my favorite. They are in fact, weeks that make me want to run screaming into the night. But, in 15 years I haven’t done that — yet. But it’s always an option I keep open and hold over Bill’s head.

Going from 36 pages to close to 90 in one week is a challenge. Not only does it mean a lot more writing, it also means a lot more layout. And, or course, a lot more of everything. More arguments with the sales staff over deadlines. More arguments with Bill over those last 15 ads he wants to place and more arguments with the printer who wants it all yesterday. 

By the time the Best of Fayetteville Party rolls around, I am too tired mentally, physically and emotionally to do more than stand and smile with a glazed look in my eye. That’s why my annual assignment at the party is to be nice. It can be a chore.

Having said all of that, my favorite thing about the Best of Fayetteville is what I learn about our community. I’m not just talking about the winners, but also about the folks who vote. Seeing how others look at our community, what they like, what they dislike, how they view things in the community is eye opening every year. And, I will admit, that sometimes I am really surprised. 

What’s the biggest scandal? Who is the most respected politician? What’s the biggest waste of money? These are all questions that can bring about a diverse number of answers; although sometimes everyone is on the same page.

While the Best of Fayetteville might not bring out the best in me. It is probably one of the best ideas Bill ever had. But, do me a favor, don’t tell him. I will never hear the end of it.

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