SH business bashing ‘deplorable, uncalled for’

South Hill business owners were offended and upset over comments made last Tuesday by District 7 school board representative Dora Garner of Chase City that she wants “to see the stores in South Hill close up with a consolidated high school.”

At the same time, among the multiple business owners the Enterprise spoke to both on and off the record, they unanimously said they don’t believe the comment was representative of the majority feeling of the people Garner represents in District 7.

Rather, it seems as though the comment stemmed from an elected official who holds South Hill in “terrible contempt.” “That’s the way she is all the time,” one high-ranking county official said.

Many are calling for Garner to publicly apologize and resign from the school board, and if she won’t, for her constituents to recall her election. They call into question her ability to impartially make decisions on behalf of all the children of Mecklenburg County.

Garner on Thursday said she doesn’t actually want South Hill businesses to close and blamed frustration over what she called “inequality in education” for the comment about wanting to see stores in South Hill close, which came last Tuesday amid a vote on school consolidation. She said the statement was “sarcastic” and told the Enterprise she won’t apologize.

Chris Hardee of Hardee Ford said he doesn’t understand that position. “If it was a joke, I would think it would be an easy apology,” Hardee said.

School board chair Brent Richey, of Boydton, contacted the Enterprise on Friday to distance himself and the majority of the school board from Garner, saying, “Her comments are her own and don’t represent the school board.”

Board of supervisors chair Glenn Barbour, a South Hill accountant, said, “It was a deplorable thing for her to say. I think she owes the community here, specifically the business community, an apology. I don’t care what context it was said in, whether it was frustration or sarcasm or whatever the case may be. It was uncalled for.”

Executive Director Frank Malone said the official position of the South Hill Chamber of Commerce is, “We won’t even dignify that comment with a response.”

South Hill Town Manager Kim Callis added, “I’ve spoken with Mayor (Dean) Marion and several members of our town council. We have either seen the school board meeting video or read Ms. Garner’s statement. We will let the character of South Hill’s citizens and businesses speak for itself. We see no need to dignify her remarks with any further comment.”

Hardee and Memory Makers owner Shep Moss, among many others, initially responded to Garner’s comment with outrage and disgust after the Enterprise published an online account of the school consolidation vote, in which the school board voted in favor of a motion to consolidate the county’s four middle and high schools into one consolidated campus centrally located between Boydton and South Hill based on student population.

Via social media, Moss noted businesses and jobs are exactly what any locality needs to provide revenues to help fund public entities such as a school system.

On Monday, Moss said he still feels Garner should publicly apologize and resign her seat on the school board. He said he’s hopeful a public meeting can take place where business owners can talk to Garner directly.

“We support all the county schools as business owners, and we were offended by her comments,” he said. “We don’t think businesses anywhere should close, and we certainly don’t think an elected, public official should be making those kinds of comments.”

Hardee on Monday said he’s also still upset but wants the county to move beyond the “distraction.”

“Whether it was a sarcastic statement or not, our businesses in South Hill do a lot for the community, and for an elected official to make a comment like that, jokingly or not, quite frankly is disrespectful,” he said. “The fact that she hasn’t issued an apology is mind-blowing to me. It’s just a slap in the face. Our community is a small community, and we all work great together to make it a nice place to live for so many people, and to bash our business owners, which the majority are local people, and hope they go out of business is totally uncalled for.

“I don’t understand what the hatred is to South Hill from her, but I don’t think that’s fair. If she hates the people of South Hill the way it seems, for her to be making decisions about our children, that’s scary.”

At the same time, Hardee noted his family used to have a car lot in Chase City and said he has many friends, neighbors and valued customers in western Mecklenburg County. He lamented that Garner’s comment has “become a distraction for the actual matter at hand, which is the school board making a decision on if we have one school or two schools. I think that’s what we need to get back to.”

The Enterprise asked Richey and District 5 school board representative Gavin Honeycutt, a South Hill florist, about Garner’s claim that the Mecklenburg County school system historically favors the eastern schools, specifically Park View High School, over the western schools. Both said in their 13 months on the school board, they haven’t detected an eastern bias, and as an example Richey pointed to the school board’s recent decision to cancel the remainder of the Park View varsity boys basketball season after some team members were involved in a fight.

“I’m looking out for every one of the children in Mecklenburg County, not just on the east side but on the west side as well,” Honeycutt said. “It’s about the children; it’s about all the children.”

Barbour said for the most part, the people of Mecklenburg County from east to west get along very well and respect each other. He said if there’s any inequity in the school system, “Then I think she needs to sweep around her own doorstep.”

Speaking with the Enterprise last Thursday, Garner was asked for specific examples of the eastern schools being favored over the western schools and the eastern communities treating the western communities with a sense of superiority. She bristled at the mention of any tax revenues and, after mentioning some programs at Bluestone High School being canceled and some students at Park View not wanting to travel to Bluestone for a class offered there, she finally settled on a statement that came up during last year’s school consolidation debate, “Just don’t put us with them.”

“We don’t want our children to go to school with them,” she said of her perception of that statement, inferring a negative connotation toward the students of western Mecklenburg County.

Barbour disputed this assertion and expressed the opinion that the South Hill community opposing secondary school consolidation is not a matter of how its residents feel about the people of western Mecklenburg County but rather how they feel about their own community and its schools.

“Park View High School has sat out there for 60 years, and it has been an integral part of this community for 60 years,” he said. “People ride by that school every day, they’re proud of that school, and they support that school. For lack of a better word, it’s a love affair between the community and that school, and to chastise somebody or criticize somebody for having those feelings and being willing to fight for the school that they love, that’s just wrong. To call this community elitist and divisionary because that’s how we feel about that school out there, that’s wrong.

“It’s a community school, and to think that this community is just going to sit back and let it be abandoned without voicing their opinions on it, I’m sorry but that just ain’t going to happen.

“We may end with a consolidated school, and if we do, so be it. If that’s the way we end up, then I’ll support it 100 percent. But don’t be critical of the people in South Hill because they want to keep their school. It doesn’t have anything to do with east and west.”