I had the opportunity to attend in-person the monthly meeting of the Sparta Town Council. I am familiar with their meetings, having previously watched several of their meetings streamed on television as well as other Town Council and Board of Commissioner Meetings in Alleghany, Ashe, and Watauga Counties. In addition, I like to read about the meetings in the Alleghany News, The Ashe Post & Times, and the Watauga Democrat.

Finding the Sweet Spot in the Middle

First, let me say how much I admire the Council members for giving their time and expertise to serve on the Town Council. Many would say that it’s a thankless job with minimal compensation that continually puts Council Members in now-win situations, basically between the proverbial rock and the hard place. The lawyer at my previous employment, with whom I had the utmost admiration and respect, would say to me, “now Ben, remember that there are always three sides to every argument, his, hers, and somewhere in the middle is the truth. When a decision is rendered, if nobody is happy, then you’ve probably done a good job.” To be perfectly honest, his advice never seemed to really make me feel any better. I’m sure that this same advice could apply in many Town Council decisions. I’ve digressed enough. Back to the meeting.

Recognizing Leadership and Champion Performance

The meeting started with Mayor Wes Brineger recognizing the Alleghany High School Wrestling Team and Coach for an outstanding showing in the State Championship. Several of the wrestlers ”placed” in the top five in the State and others had successful matches. I have seen a lot of recognitions at other similar events; however, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen one more uplifting and sincere from any elected official before. It was obvious that he personally knew and cared about the wrestlers and that he was genuinely very proud of them. He congratulated each wrestler and made them feel special by telling a personal story about them. He congratulated the team as a whole on their successful season and said he was looking forward to having them back in a year for another recognition ceremony. But the most moving recognition was when he awarded Coach Matthew Linker a special award for his leadership in the way he has helped the team develop both individually and as a team.

Getting Down to Business

Agenda items included a request for an event (gospel sing) by the Fire Department, presentation by the Alleghany Arts Council, and a request of where to hang a commissioned mural display about agriculture. I thought that Council members were well prepared, asked good questions, thoroughly discussed options / alternatives and were able to mostly agree on solutions. What I also saw was a wonderful group of volunteers, artisans, and leaders who were very passionate and dedicated about their community contributions.

Next was a presentation by a local businessman with a video concerning how landowners maintain their properties in Sparta. This complex issue generated some lively discussion.

Another quite interesting issue that the Council discussed was whether to revisit a zoning request from the previous meeting. Having watched the previous Council meeting on TV, I was aware of the zoning request, the debate, and the issues involved in the Council allowing the change in zoning to pass. It must be challenging for Council members weighing decisions where long-term benefits to the community seem to outweigh some individuals’ objections.

A Community Coming Together

In closing, I feel that I accomplished my goal of learning how a Town Council and it’s citizens interact and function to further the mission and vision. There is no comparison between watching a Council Meeting on the TV and being there in person. I got to see a Town Council in action. I got to see Mayor Brinegar at his best. I witnessed good debate among thoughtful Council members. I got to meet the Council Members and some very nice folks from Alleghany County, all of whom were very welcoming and cordial. I met some of the Sparta Town Council staff, all of whom are both knowledgeable and top notch. Lastly and most importantly, I was able to see how a community comes together in its decision making to, as America’s last troubadour, Harry Chapin, would say, make it “a better place to be.”