For the third year, local legislators will be making themselves available as part of a town hall forum to kick off a new year.
Sen. Brent Jackson, the sophomore senator representing District 10 (Sampson, Duplin and Johnston) is hosting the town hall meeting, with Reps. Larry Bell and William Brisson, both Democrats representing Sampson in the N.C. House, also expected to be in attendance.
The meeting will take place 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, at Sampson Community College, Classroom O-140. The event is free and open to the public. The meetings — there are two others slated for February in Duplin and Johnston counties — are intended to provide a forum for dialogue between the residents of District 10 and their state representatives, Jackson noted.
“This is the third time we’ve held these meetings,” said Jackson. “The reason behind them is to give local citizens a chance to give their concerns, criticisms and praises, and tell us what they happen to be interested and concerned with. I realize a lot of folks can’t make it to Raleigh and don’t want to go to Raleigh.”
Jackson said his aides were working on getting Bell and Brisson on board, and Jackson was confident they would be at Jan. 23’s forum. A longtime local educator, Bell represents District 21 (Sampson, Duplin and Wayne) and is now in his seventh term in the House. Brisson, in his fourth term in office, represents the 22nd district, which includes Sampson, Bladen and Johnston counties.
“Hopefully representatives Brisson and Bell will be able to join me,” said Jackson. “They’re always very gracious in supporting me with this and giving their time (for the forum).”
The three were all in attendance at the town hall forum at Sampson Community College last January, Brisson’s first with Bell and Jackson. A redistricting in 2012 took Rep. J.H. Langdon out of Sampson in favor of Bladen resident Brisson’s 22nd district. Langdon joined Bell and Jackson at the first town hall meeting in early 2012.
The senator touted the forums with open lines of communication between constituents and their representatives, both of whom benefit from the annual events.
“I get to hear from folks I don’t normally hear from, some of which are not typically citizens that would send an email or send a letter,” said Jackson. “It’s really to educate us on their concerns. My only campaign promise was that I would be open to everyone. This makes good on that promise.”
Education dominated last January’s 90-minute session, with members of the Clinton City and Sampson County schools grilling legislators over discretionary reductions, charter schools and the school calendar itself. Jackson said he was open to any topics, and said education would likely surface again.
“I’m sure education will come up as it always does, as it should because that is an issue that is very important to people in this district, as it is to me,” said the senator, a farmer by trade. “I don’t have any hidden agendas to this thing. I have no preconceived notions.”
Jackson said he expects there will be a lot of concerns and questions about the restructuring of the N.C. Rural Center, which had its funding cut off last summer in the wake of a poor state audit. The Rural Center has attempted to revive itself as a smaller entity, with state funds channeled through the N.C. Department of Commerce and “one-stop shopping” for rural economic development and water infrastructure grants available through two new entities.
N.C. Small Towns Economic Prosperity (STEP) funds, awarded through the Rural Center and given to two Sampson towns in 2012, were put in jeopardy by the shake-up, which raised concerns locally and brought several citizens to the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce-sponsored “Sampson Perspective” in August 2013.
Jackson, Bell, Brisson, Congressman Mike McIntyre and leaders with the City of Clinton and Sampson County were at that forum. Jackson said it is those kind of issues, that occur on the state level and trickle down to communities, that he wants to hear about. As far as the Rural Center, he is hoping to get an update from town leaders as to their experiences during the ongoing revamp.
That is the benefit of meeting the community face-to-face in a publicized forum, he said.
“We get to hear a lot of concerns and questions from these individuals that we might not have heard if we waited for them to come forward,” Jackson remarked. “We try to use newsletters and Facebook and I think this is just another forum of communication. We’re trying to make it very informal so the public can be at ease in asking what they want to ask and we can given them an answer or get back to them as soon as we can.”
He is hoping for a large crowd Jan. 23, but knows that weather and scheduling can affect attendance.
“It’s hit or miss, it could be 100 (people) or it could be 20,” Jackson said. “We’re hoping with word of mouth spreading that we have a good crowd.”
Other town hall meetings Jackson has scheduled include: Monday, Feb. 17, 6:30-8 p.m. at Kenly Tobacco Farm Life Museum and Thursday, Feb. 20, 6:30-8 p.m. at Wallace Woman’s Club.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.