02JL DawkinsLast week the CARE Clinic held its 17th Annual Toast of the Town Wine and Beer Tasting and Auction fundraiser at Cape Fear Botanical Garden. It was an enjoyable and successful event. However, it lacked one significant thing: the support, presence and participation of our local elected officials. I was disappointed that our city, county and state leaders all took a pass on this special occasion. It was, however, great to see District Court Judge Toni King and Fayetteville Astros general manager David Lane and his wife Lindsey at the event.They get it!

In November, the CARE Clinic will celebrate its 25th anniversary of unselfishly serving the medical and dental needs of residents of Fayetteville and Cumberland County. I remember when the Catholic Social Ministries of the Diocese in Raleigh provided the $10,000 grant to establish this free health clinic. The capital campaign that followed was led by Sister Jean Rhodes. She rallied the community and raised the money to renovate the building that is the clinic’s present home at 239 Robeson St.

She garnered the love and support of the entire community. From its inception,anything the CARE Clinic was involved in seemed to become the most important and prestigious “who’s who” event in Fayetteville. This is why I was so disappointed at last week’s beer and wine tasting. Out of the hundreds of generous CARE Clinic supporters in attendance, it was conspicuously void of our local elected officials.

This is troublesome for a couple of reasons. First, it should concern everyone that our elected officials are so disconnected from our community that they cannot recognize the people and organizations who unselfishly work and sacrifice to enhance the quality of life of our citizens.

Secondly, it should concern everyone that our elected officials do not seem to want to meet and mingle with their constituents. Do they see so little value in making their presence known in a community that put them in office?

Thirdly, it makes one skeptical of their real intentions for wanting to hold public office in the first place. After all, why wouldn’t they want to mingle with and meet community residents? What makes them so bashful and elusive? Are they afraid people are going to hold them responsible and accountable? Are they skittish of people asking them questions like the following?

Do you live in the district you represent? Have you paid your taxes? How do you feel about the $10 downtown event parking fee? What are you going to do about the panhandling issue in our community? When are we going to get a new performing arts center? Why did you support (or not support) that zoning recommendation? Why do we need a baseball stadium? Why haven’t my leaves and yard debris been picked up? Why shouldn’t the state government continue to appoint District Court judges? When will we adopt a campaign to curb litter and beautify our community? Or, one of my favorites, how did that $5,000 West Coast conference you attended benefit Cumberland County?

Now, I am being a little facetious. This type and style of elusive political posturing and behavior have developed over the last decade. It wasn’t always like this. In fact, it was just the opposite. Major prestigious community events were the venues our dedicated leaders wanted to attend and be seen at. The CARE Clinic fundraisers were one of many. Others included the Holly Day Fair, the International Folk Festival, Community Concerts events, the Greek Festival, Cape Fear Regional Theatre performances, the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival, the Fort Bragg Fair and anything sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. During the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, these events drew community movers and shakers from throughout the greater Fayetteville area. Now, not so much.

Let this serve as a polite warning to everyone in an elected capacity – especially those who have mastered the art of getting elected without serving the people or the community. Your nonparticipation and lack of contribution are noticeable and conspicuous. Fayetteville and Cumberland County are coming of age. Bold leadership abilities, vision, razor sharp minds and integrity top the list of attributes needed to manage and fuel our future growth and development successfully. I suggest our leaders ask themselves a few questions before deciding to run for reelection – questions like: What have I contributed to this community? Can I point to any accomplishments for which I am responsible? Am I leading by example or just taking up space?

Local or state elected officials who don’t see the value of being out in public and showing up at major events held in high esteem by the community or who can’t find time to attend important events like an economic development seminar, a Chamber of Commerce social or a Military Command Breakfast may have something bothering them – or something to hide. What other explanation could there be? Maybe it’s a false loyalty to the community they swore an oath to serve. Perhaps it’s merely a character flaw that’s causing them personal discomfort and insecurity. Or, maybe it’s guilt caused by clandestine improprieties and abuse of resources. Whatever the reason, actions speak louder than words.

If they are not seen out in public at an event, they have made a conscious decision to be elsewhere. The beach, the mountains or at home, it really doesn’t matter. They are not in the public’s eye, and this diminishes the person and the office. Where would this community be without the vision and leadership of people like the late County Commissioner Thomas Bacote, Fayetteville’s Mayor for Life J.L. Dawkins and former Fayetteville Mayor Bill Hurley? They were out there. These leaders were true public figures. To be a public figure, you need to be out in public.

My final words are directed to this group of individuals: Leaders, you need to show up! Your absence is conspicuous,and your elusive behavior is as shallow as your contributions to our community. Step up or move out. Make room for people who want to make a difference in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Serving in a public office is an honor and not meant to be a convenient landing spot so one can collect supplemental pay while getting their picture taken for the local news. The best way to get into the newspaper is to do something significant.The first step is to show up!

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PHOTO: The late and great J.L. Dawkins, Fayetteville's Mayor for Life

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