Thumbs up, thumbs down: Breen’s clarion call for representative democracy inspires

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THUMBS UP to Wilson County District 7 school board candidate Rhyan Breen, who made a clarion call for a return to representative democracy during his Friday town hall meeting. Local elected officials, he says, should serve as stand-ins for their constituents instead of voting as they please.

“My whole mandate is to do the will of the people,” Breen said. “We need to return to people who are elected officials actually representing us. That’s how all this was set up, and we’ve lost sight of that. People get elected and they feel like they get to do what they want. That is not how our system of government was established.”

While we don’t formally endorse candidates for public office, we’ll endorse that sentiment all day long. It echoes a stance of voter empowerment we’ve long maintained on this page. Wilson County needs more public servants and fewer politicians. The current school board and members of our other elected bodies should take these sincere and earnest words to heart.

THUMBS DOWN to federal officials’ overbroad subpoenas for voting records in 44 eastern North Carolina counties, including Wilson, Johnston, Nash, Edgecombe and Wayne, and to the disjointed way those subpoenas were served, with some county elections offices receiving late Friday faxes and some that were named in the documents not receiving them at all.

The case appears to be connected to a probe that resulted in 19 foreign nationals facing federal charges for illegally voting in 2016. The integrity of the ballot box is paramount, which is why we support voter identification requirements. This disruptive data pull appears to be a fishing expedition rather than the outcome of a legitimate law enforcement probe.

“All of us who received these subpoenas felt, ‘Oh my gosh, what now? How do we handle this?’ because it is an unbelievable task to be burdened with, especially when we’re already behind in getting ready for the coming election,” Wilson County elections director Rená Morris said.

Elections boards in the 44 affected counties voted to ask Attorney General Josh Stein to represent them in a bid to throw the subpoenas out. If federal prosecutors have evidence of voter fraud in some of the counties named, they can return with a subpoena narrowly tailored to assist the investigation.

THUMBS UP to the rapid pace of economic development and growth in Johnston County, which area officials detailed during the Greater Smithfield-Selma Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the Region luncheon last week.

Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver noted her town’s seen $22 million in capital investment since Jan. 1, and the year isn’t over yet. A streetscape project is in the works for Selma’s uptown business district, and the Selma Civic Center is set to open next year. A few miles east, Princeton is banking on business growth as state officials convert the U.S. 70 bypass through town into Interstate 42. With two highway interchanges, Princeton could position itself as a hub for travelers to dine, fuel up and perhaps stick around for some shopping.

Johnston ranked third in population growth among North Carolina’s 100 counties last year, and as the Raleigh suburbs grow eastward, these communities are well positioned to welcome new residents and add to their tax base.

THUMBS DOWN to procedural delays in former Kenly police officer Jesse Santifort’s involuntary manslaughter case that have left the charge unresolved for more than two years. Santifort is now scheduled to go on trial Oct. 22 after the Johnston County District Attorney’s office handed the case over to a state prosecutor in the attorney general’s office due to an unspecified conflict of interest.

While picking a new prosecutor appears to be the right move, this is only the latest in a string of legal wranglings since Santifort was indicted in September 2016 following the stun gun death of 37-year-old Alex Thompson six months prior. The combined effect of these delays has been to deprive Santifort of his right to a speedy trial and to withhold closure for Thompson’s family and friends.

North Carolina is one of only a handful of states without a speedy trial statute. In federal court, trials generally must begin within 70 days of indictment. Lawmakers should study ways to accelerate the administration of justice, which serves victims as well as defendants. Homicide cases should not take years to wind their way through the court system. Our state can do better.

Editor’s Note: Today’s editorial weighs in on matters of public interest in Wilson and Johnston counties and appears in The Wilson Times and the Johnstonian News.