An enlightened mind is the guardian genius of Democracy

7 mins read

By DAVID TAUB

That Texas icon, General Sam Houston was the first President of the Republic of Texas. Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar was the second.

MBL was one of my Texas heroes, although somewhat tarnished by believing and participating in the genocide of the original owners of the land they now called The Republic of Texas. That is to say, native Indians, mostly Comanches, who roamed wild and free (and marauded) the newly independent Texans.

On the brighter side, President Lamar was often referred to as the Father of Texas Education. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “An enlightened (by which he meant educated) mind is the guardian genius of Democracy.”

Those prescient words are carved in concrete over the entryway at Lamar High School in Houston. In fact, educated minds guard many principles of our united Republic. Sir Frances Bacon said that knowledge is power and he was one smart dude. So, allow me to sell you a bill of goods on “KNOWLEDGE.”

A lot of dust has been stirred up concerning what many of us believe to be an undesirable change to the City of Beaufort’s ordinance regarding the Historic Beaufort Foundation’s (HBF) right to nominate a member to the Historic District Review Board (HDRB).

Is it perhaps possible that all that stirred-up dust is blinding us to some simple truths? Me thinketh it may be so.

The main ingredient to making a successful and delicious pecan pie is knowledge of its ingredients and how to mix its disparate parts together to create a South Carolina delicacy.

And it would likewise be so that knowledge is the most important ingredient to the successful operation of the HDRB and its associated parts.

The HDRB’s job – its only job – is to evaluate projects in Beaufort’s historic district, based on the Department of Interior’s 10 governing principles and other critical guiding tomes such as the Milner Report. Knowing and understanding these principles and guidelines, and applying them in an unbiased manner to ensure a just and fair outcome, is the only way the HDRB can successfully achieve its goals and mission.

When an HDRB member says “I don’t like it,” you know they have failed in that important mission. “Liking it” ain’t part of the job, but this statement has been expressed many times.

The Mayor has appointed a balanced ad hoc committee and charged them with seeking a solution to the dustup that has divided our community regarding his desire to eliminate HBF’s dedicated nominee to HDRB.

Here is a simple solution, at least in concept, to the central problem of an inadequate knowledge base, sadly a problem shared by the HDRB, some City staff, and some members of HBF: Training should be mandatory for all persons who have a role to play in deciding any project inside Beaufort’s 300 acres of historic legacy. A broad-based training program would not only cover the principles relating to architectural decision making, but would also include administrative procedure.

Too often, the HDRB fails to follow the simplest rules of procedure, such as those found in Robert’s Rules of Order. The HDRB should not be using “Bobby’s Rules of Disorder.” For example, to postpone a project requires a motion to table, a second, no discussion allowed on such a motion, and then a vote in the majority.

Training, knowledge and understanding lead to wisdom. HBF has the credentials and bona fides to establish this mandatory training program. I would hope their decision-makers would consider undertaking this monumentally important task.

I am willing to predict that the City leaders would be pleased not to be burdened with developing/managing this critically needed resource. This is a badly needed model, and I am optimistic that it could solve most problems that bedevil protecting Beaufort’s most unique and invaluable historic patrimony.

Related to the need for broad training, the HDRB has been functioning without its full five members for too many months. This may be barely legal (or maybe not at all), but it is certainly inappropriate to operate one of the City’s most important boards in this manner.

The Mayor has characterized the current HBF nominee, Mary Ragsdale, as the perfect board member, but for reasons most obscure, the vote on Mrs. Ragsdale has been postponed indefinitely, even though a vote was scheduled the night the Mayor created the ad hoc committee. Her appointment would give the HDRB its much needed fifth member.

If the HDRB doesn’t have a full complement of members, then it should not be conducting hearings on historic projects. And, as a result of this dysfunction, the HDRB has approved a project with the vote of only two members. This is neither good nor right. Is this not an incredibly simple problem to solve?

So, Dr. Taub’s prescription is to pray there is a creation and implementation of a comprehensive training program, mandatory for all persons involved in historic projects, as soon as possible. The patients need immediate attention. My prescription is a proven vaccination against the insidious virus of “Ignorance.” My bill for these services is in the mail.

David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999, and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate Judge from 2010 to 2015.  He may be contacted at david.m.taub42@gmail.com.

Latest from Blog

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Woman’s love of Beaufort redeemed I love Beaufort, because of the people. My daughter and I…