There are many great things this county has to offer residents and visitors alike. We have one of the cleanest and most beautiful lakes in the state. We have artists that rival and in some cases surpass many of those seen in larger Arkansas cities and popular tourist destinations like Hot Springs, Eureka Springs, and Mountain View. We have what is becoming a nationally recognized toy train museum. We have amazing scenic roads that thousands of motorcycles travel every year. We have a soup kitchen led by selfless and caring people whose only goal is to ensure no one in this county goes hungry. We have a school for disabled/challenged children that is one of the crown jewels of our county. All of these things are only a part of what makes Cleburne great. What we don’t seem to have, as opposed to many other areas around the state, is a strong sense of community leadership by many of our elected leaders, business leaders, and other community leaders. And to these people I have three words that I will aggressively stand by – SHAME ON THEM.
Yes, I said shame. The majority of community leaders in Cleburne County should be ashamed. Their lack of support for many of the things that could make this county known statewide and beyond can’t be described as anything but shameful. For example, last year the Ruland Junction toy train museum opened. For those who have seen it, you will understand me when I say it could be one of the prime tourist destinations in our county. On entering the door for the first time, your jaw can’t help but drop because it is nothing like you expected. The owners of the museum worked tirelessly for decades building this collection and poured countless amounts of money into creating it, not only for the enjoyment of all, but also as an homage to owner Wayne Ruland’s father. After their years of work getting it ready, they personally extended invitations to community leaders in Heber Springs for a private showing at the Grand Opening. Who showed up? Not one community leader…. not one. Not one city council member, not the mayor, not any of the “grand” business leaders of the community, not one member of the Chamber of Commerce, not one member of the A&P commission, not one community leader to speak of. Potentially one of the greatest tourist attractions in the county and not one of our esteemed leaders could pull themselves out of their own self-interest to show up and lend their support.
While the shame for the train museum incident primarily rests on the shoulders of Heber Springs leaders, the county as a whole doesn’t get a pass. This past weekend, the Community School of Cleburne County opened its doors for an Open House. It was an excellent time for the community to go see this undisputed treasure we have. Hundreds of invitations were sent out to city leaders, county leaders, doctors, business leaders, etc. It is only recently that this decades-old institution is finally beginning to get the recognition it more than deserves. The anticipated day came last Saturday. The staff anxiously awaited the public and county “leaders” so they could show off this gem and answer any questions anyone might have about the magnificent work they do for children. Delicious food was prepared and employees eagerly waited to take visitors on tours of the sprawling facility. While members of the general public did show, I can count on my hands the number of community leaders that came to show their support. They deserve to be named. They were Libby Jackson, Mark Johnson, JP Steve Choate, Christ & Mrs. Foster, Dr. Alan Sugg, Judge and Mrs. Jerry Holmes, Representative John Payton, Republican leader Paulette Yarbrough, and Economic Developer Dara Samuel. Where were the area city council members? Where were our esteemed Justices of the Peace? Where were our city mayors? Where were our local educators and administrators? Where were our religious leaders? Where were our business leaders? Where were the doctors that received personal invitations? I can’t answer those questions, but, with the exception of those listed above, they certainly couldn’t be found on Saturday showing their support for disabled and challenged children. Granted, many of them have given financial donations to the school, and for that they should be commended since, as with any school, funding is always in need.
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While financial support is important and appreciated, sometimes emotional and visual support goes so much further. As a leader, just giving money doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility to publicly and visually show support. And this is a problem that seems to be systemic in our county. Residents of this county, both leaders and the general public, are very giving and when there is a good cause, they do not hesitate to give money. Getting our leaders to get off their collective rears and step out of their own self-interest long enough to appear at functions to visually show their support is an issue that needs to be fixed if this county is going to succeed in any way. Now, you throw a football in the mix somewhere, bring in a “celebrity” from out of town, or best of all, hold an event one month before an election, and you will see them tripping over themselves to be seen. A thousand people can go see an owner of a national football team give, what many afterwards claimed, was a very scattered and uninspiring speech, but less than 50 can be bothered to show up for an hour or less of their Saturday to show support for disabled/challenged children.
After this piece is published, many will give their “reasons”. Like a very wise person told me once, 90% of “reasons” are actually just excuses wrapped in too many words. In this county there always seem to be “reasons” why many of our county “leaders” can’t get out and be active in the community with anything that doesn’t have a direct benefit to them. To be honest, they really have no incentive to. The general public never really takes it upon themselves to truly pressure their “leaders” to be leaders. Until they do, our “leaders” can continue to just do what they have always done -- show up to their meetings once a month, sell their products, preach to the masses and compete with one another for congregation members and their tithe money, cheer on the athletes, and do a fantastic presentation next election day of how they are the ones that will lead this county to greatness. In all honesty, they should really do some self-reflection and they should be ashamed.
(James Jackson’s “A different perspective” columns are submitted as an opinion editorial and are not meant to represent an official view of The Sun-Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)