All Charlie Newton could do was shake his head.
The crowd was packed into the Thomson Depot for a town hall meeting on the sales tax vote - more people than he'd seen at a public meeting in a long time.
When it came time for the McDuffie County Commission Chairman to talk, he lamented that it took people getting angry for them to get involved. The day-to-day issues - like government budgets, zoning issues and so forth - are often too mundane to rankle the general public.
Americans are increasingly saddled with something that fluctuates between contentment and apathy - depending on the issue. It's not Generation X or the Me-Generation. It's Generation NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard. Or, more accurately, Generation NIMB-P - Not In My Back Pocket.
Bo Boling has seen it. He's only lived in McDuffie County for a couple of years, but he's been to more public meetings than most lifelong residents.
"You feel like you're up on a mountain by yourself. Something that is really, really disturbing is that when you go to these school board meetings on taxes or whatever, there's never anyone there. â€¦ That's really pathetic," he said.
That's why the response leading up to Tuesday's Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax vote was so heartening - and heartbreaking.
Here's the thing: While it is commendable that area residents decided to get involved in the political process, where were many of them a year ago when commissioners were elbow-deep in discussion of SPLOST projects? Or five years ago when planners were hard at work on the idea of a new city-county government center?
An educated electorate allows for informed decisions at the ballot box and promotes logical, enlightening discussions about important issues. Government meetings are open to the public, and even have time set aside for our elected leaders to have face-to-face discussions with their constituents.
To allow elected officials to make decisions unencumbered and then complain about the decisions made seems to me like a colossal waste of time. It's not fair to the people we elected to office, and it short circuits the political process. Why not join the process before the decision is made, when there is time to change the outcome?
So, here's my challenge to everyone: Why not use Tuesday's vote as a jumping off point to improve our community?
For those who organized the campaign against the SPLOST and associated projects, why not turn that energy toward finding solutions to the issues facing McDuffie County? The same goes for the sales tax supporters.
Now is the time to put political divisions aside and get to work on what should matter: Making our community the best it can be. It will take getting the best out of our elected officials, whether they serve on the school board, county commission or city councils of Thomson or Dearing.
Accomplishing that goal will take a key ingredient: you.