Welcome back to Wrong Side of the Mountain, my column about life in Boone County and what makes it good or bad, depending on your perspective.
I've had a lot of deep conversations with citizens throughout the county from Wharton to Whitesville. I don't just pique the minds of politicians and business owners, I like to get into the pulse and soul of our community and I share more than a few cups of coffee with people in my office who are looking for someone to lend an objective ear to their frustrations.
I've also received (sometimes anonymous) letters and emails (on burner accounts, nonetheless) from people who object to the questions that I've been asking since 2017.
I generally give no credence to thoughts that are communicated without the courage of attaching a name to them, but a recent conversation with a woman in our community who accused me of "negative thinking" sparked a fire in me. A much larger fire than already burns in my gullet.
Somehow, the culture of this county is one that doesn't question authority or elected officials in general. We discuss our frustrations in private with friends and loved ones, but we don't dare rattle the cage.
I know for a fact that uttering these words is something that makes some in power cringe, as courage is contagious, just like apathy.
I am here to tell you that until we establish accountability and reflect upon the mistakes we've made in state, county and city government, we will never move forward because we will continue to make the same mistakes over and over for generations to come. The time has come to identify why this county has some of the worst infrastructure in the state after so many years of being one of the most robust counties in terms of tax base.
Why are we still struggling with piping clean water to the entire county? Why have we let land companies come into our back yard and hold us hostage to our own existence? Why in the name of all that is holy and good do we have (some of the) same people serving on boards around this county who in my opinion are planted and serve as "yes men?" Are these issues that plague other areas of West Virginia? Sure they are. But that doesn't constitute a "get out of jail free" card.
The days of sweetheart deals made at the country club need to be over. We need more young people involved in government. I'm sick and tired of the same re-treaded candidates coming out of the woodwork to run for seats because they see an "opportunity in the primary."
Last year, while interviewing candidates for various offices, I felt my own meager IQ dropping 15 points when I heard the ridiculous things coming out of their mouths in relation to how to fix this county.
I was embarrassed for them and I was embarrassed for our citizens and I was embarrassed for the Coal Valley News to have to print such nonsense. It isn't 1975 anymore. We need new energy, unstoppable passion and more than a sprinkle of intellect to revive ourselves to relevancy. The ability to understand the importance of technology is a start.
How dare I ask questions about the intention of the Hatfield McCoy Trail System and why we are at the impasse we are at regarding it and our county?
I had a politician tell me, "You need to go and speak to (insert name here) for the truth about what is going on with Hatfield McCoy."
Well, in the end, that was a misguided and ignorant comment. Thankfully, I value my own ability to think for myself enough to talk to more than one person or at least attempt to. I can't force people to return a phone call or email. More is coming on a supposed $1.7 million lodge coming to Peytona in future editions of the Coal Valley News.
We have to be careful not to put the cart ahead of the horse, so to speak. I appreciate the rallying cry of the community to unite. That is certainly step No. 1. But let's clean up our mess and put ourselves on stable footing before we build another Lewisburg. We have too many moving parts and haymakers being swung in the wind right now.
I'd like to see our elected county officials hold a town hall in Wharton, Madison, Peytona and Whitesville and address the state of our county and field the tough questions from citizens. I don't want to see guest speakers from outside agencies to serve as mouthpieces to chew up time. I want to hear from you, our elected officials. I want to hear from the community and what is on their minds. If an effort like this were to be poorly attended by our citizens, then we have far more problems than we realize. Apathy is deadly.
In the end, any community effort will be in vain if we're not on the same page, pulling in the same direction. Right now, it feels like 24,000 people in a swimming pool with only a tablespoon of water.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-307-2401.