The longest current sitting Sampson County commissioner, John Blanton again took his place on the board this week after a two and a half month hiatus during which he has been receiving treatment at the VA Hospital in Fayetteville for some health problems.
Tuesday’s budget work session, his first in physical attendance since the May 7 regular meeting, opened with an emotional Blanton addressing his fellow board members and those in attendance.
“I’m happy to be back,” said Blanton, whose voice shook and his eyes welled up. He talked about the many friends and fellow veterans he came to know at the VA Hospital who did not make it. “I was very fortunate to be able to come back. Now that I’m back, I’m going to be in pretty good shape. A few more days and I’ll be back on my wheels again and up moving. I was able to come back alive and I thank God for that.”
Blanton’s recuperation forced him to be absent from the last two monthly meetings of the Board of Commissioners, as well as the entire slate of budget work sessions since late May. Still, Blanton said he has every intention of being in attendance at meetings through what will serve as the closing months of his final term. Blanton, who has been on the board nearly 17 years, will be stepping down from his post at the end of the year after not seeking reelection in May.
The outgoing commissioner said he expected to return to the Fayetteville hospital for another week after Tuesday’s meeting, maybe two, before returning for good. He implored those in attendance to give thanks for the gift of life.
“All of you have something to be thankful for. You are here. A lot of them paid the ultimate price. I had a lot of buddies that did not make it,” said Blanton. “I’m glad that I got an opportunity to come back. If I could go back to war again for my country, I would do it. I would stand up and be counted. Anybody that says ‘I’ve had all I can take,’ no you haven’t had all you can take. You just think you have. This is what makes life so tough.”
A U.S. Army veteran himself, Blanton recalled coming to Sampson County 55 years ago, through the decades serving as an educator and principal with Sampson County Schools, including at Charles E. Perry, as well as a commissioner. He said his pride in Sampson County was immeasurable. At Fort Bragg, he spoke highly of Sampson and many knew where he was talking about — now they really know, Blanton has made sure of that.
“Today I am very proud to say I’m from Sampson County,” attested Blanton. “I know it’s because of the people here that make this county so great. I’ve served a long time in this county as a commissioner. This December, it will be 17 years I have served. I don’t know many people have served more than that. I’ve given it everything I have, and that’s all that matters. I ask you, if you’ve given all you can give, that’s all you can ask.”
In an interview following the meeting, Blanton said despite a little weakness in his left leg he was doing OK, and felt that by next week he should be better. He shared his desire to get back to close out his final year on the board and also gave his take on the divisiveness among board members that halted budget action while he was away.
“There’s too much conflict on the board,” he said. “(Commissioners Albert) Kirby and Jarvis (McLamb) are not helping with the board; they’re going against the board. That’s not the way you do it. You can’t be out there by yourself. They have to support each other. Don’t turn on each other.”
Blanton pointed to previous forms of the board who attempted every avenue toward coming to a consensus.
“We had a people that really worked together and tried to make things work,” he remarked. “Stick together as a board and decide on what you’re going to decide on, as a board. That’s the best way to do it.”
He also took issue with not having the chance to participate via videoconference in a June 25 budget session that ultimately resulted in the adoption of an interim budget.
The Board of Commissioners Meetings Rules of Procedure and Conduct had to be amended to allow participation by electronic means before Blanton could be a part, but the vote deadlocked 2-2 with McLamb and Kirby dissenting. At that meeting, Kirby said he was not against Blanton participating, but expressed the legal ramifications that his casting a vote might present.
“It didn’t make sense,” Blanton said. “I would have said ‘let’s give him that opportunity if he wants it,’ but they wouldn’t give it to me. So I had to come back in. That’s what I had to do.”
With his departure from the board drawing closer, he encouraged the board to work together and said he hoped they would heed the advice. In bringing his public statements to a close Tuesday, Blanton shared his sentiment for Sampson County and what being a Sampsonian has meant to him over the years.
“I came here in 1957 and I have not regretted it one bit. This is where I met my wife and this is where I stayed,” said Blanton, again fighting back tears, “and I am very proud of that. Thank you all for having me in Sampson County and making things so wonderful for me. And I hope I will be here a long, long time.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.