Leadership isn’t always doing what’s popular.
Often it’s risky politically, which explains why Robeson County is plodding into the future — not sprinting. Too many of our elected officials worry not about progress, but Election Day, pandering to those who prefer status quo to what can be.
We recall Lumberton’s effort to get liquor by the drink, which was defeated more than once before voters finally approved it around the turn of the century. As predicted, restaurants and hotels rose up around Interstate 95, providing jobs — yes, low paying and poorly benefited, but better than nothing — that provided some cushion from the fall from NAFTA.
Liquor-by-the-drink enabled Lumberton to better exploit its position straddling Interstate 95, which more than anything has kept this city from becoming Laurinburg, a once bustling city that is a shadow of its former self.
And the naysayers’ dire predictions of bars and strip clubs moving into the neighborhood, and a surge in the number of people arrested for DWI’s, turned out to be exactly what we said they were at the time — scare tactics.
It was because of leadership that the city turned a page of progress, and no one provided more than David Weinstein, our former mayor and state senator.
Leadership was also required to keep alive dreams of Northeast Park after city voters said no during a 2005 referendum to the sale of $6 million in bonds as a way to quickly build the park. It should be remembered that the vote was overwhelming, with 63 percent against, and that every precinct in the city voted against, apparently believing the cost wasn’t worth the reward.
But the Lumberton City Council, behind Mayor Raymond Pennington, and council members Bruce Davis, Leon Maynor, Wyatt Johnson and Harry Ivey, kept pushing for the park, opting for the only path available, which was a piece at a time.
They did have allies in the community, and with advance apologies to those we leave out, we will mention Bruce Mullis, Wendell Staton, Tim Locklear, Eric Dent, James Granger, Tim Taylor, John Rancke, Carey Read, Mike Coleman and Dan Kenney as among those who kept pushing.
Today at Northeast Park there are 45 acres developed that include two football fields that double as soccer fields, five baseball/softball fields, six batting cages, four bullpens, two shelters with bathrooms, a scoring tower with a concession stand and bathrooms, a playground for children, a walking trail and 550 parking spaces — all built with a mix of public and private money.
There is more development envisioned, which could include lighted soccer fields, two adult softball fields, another playground, skateboard park, dog park, another concession stand/shelter with bathrooms, a maintenance building and an office for a park supervisor.
As was first envisioned by the late Bill Sapp, the longtime city recreation director, Northeast Park is a community asset that provides recreational opportunities, but is also a selling point when business, industry and professional people consider Lumberton and Robeson County as a home.
And just last week we learned that Northeast Park will be the host of the Dixie Youth World Series in 2018, a two-week event that will bring hundreds of people, boosting the local economy and showcasing the county and city.
Northeast Park has taken a long time develop, and that only happened because some key leaders refused to say no. They have set an example we wish others would follow, which is that his county and city don’t have to settle for less.