Your Vote Matters! The Untold Story of Cumberland Corner
September is National Voter Registration Month.
Register to vote online at: https://ovr.govote.tn.gov
September is known for National Voter Registration Month. Since 2015, Secretary of State Tre Hargett has been inviting colleges across the state to participate in a Voter Registration Drive Competition. Over the summer, Cumberland University was invited to participate in this drive to encourage students to register and vote. “Tennessee voter turnout ranked 46th in the nation in the 2020 presidential election, according to U.S. Election Assistance Commission,” Melissa Brown with The Tennessean reported in August.
Tennessee’s voter turnout numbers are even lower than one might imagine.
Students sometimes don't realize the power that comes with registering to vote.
We all know about the big elections for president, or Congress, or big state elections. But local elections matter too, and one might say that your vote counts for more there. Want an example? Start with the plot of land at the intersection of South Greenwood Street and Leeville Pike with the steel-and-chain disc golf goals. A proposal was on the table to make that underutilized slab of land something called “Cumberland Corner." Local voters doomed the initiative before it could get off the ground.
The picture above outlines the plan Cumberland University drew up in 2018 to present to the City Council of Lebanon for a request of $850,000. The structures would add more much-needed resident housing and parking for the university. Dr. Sheridan Henson, a Cumberland alumni and Executive Director of Academic Support who has been with the university since 2006, states, “I think the idea was if Cumberland University was brought to Lebanon by the people of Lebanon, then what if the City of Lebanon could buy the parcel and then gift the land to Cumberland University because we are a nonprofit organization?”
But opposition formed.
An article by the Wilson Post written by Brian Harville found that this opposition called themselves “Lebanon Taxpayers United.” Dr. Henson finds “there was a gentleman who had business interest within the community who created a group of constituents who were opposed to the city spending that money on a private organization.” The group believed the requested money would come out of the rainy day fund. But Stuart Lawson, the Lebanon Commissioner of Finance, says that is just not true.
The second reading is where the decision was made.
“I attended the second reading and Dr. Stumb came forward and gave an excellent speech on why the university needed to be supported by Lebanon," Dr. Henson says. "There were a few of our Board of Trustee members who spoke, and then there were a couple of people from the opposition who spoke. But it was a full house for that second reading.”
It was a hard day for Cumberland University.
“It boiled down to was it wasn’t a question of were they doing the right thing, it was whether they were doing what their constituents told them what they wanted done," Dr. Henson says. "In the end, politicians have to do what the people elected them to do and the people wanted them to vote against the Cumberland Corner financial request.
"The voices were louder from the opposition than for the people supporting it. And they all voted against it. It was very difficult to see.” (The piece of property currently stands, with nine disc golf goals, as a "community park" so the town does not have to pay taxes on the land.)
President Stumb never wavered in his Cumberland faith despite the loss. He wrote to the Cumberland faculty and staff saying, “Although we lost this battle, I consider this just an unfortunate speed bump on our pathway to continued success, and my faith in this great institution is not shaken. Rather, I renew my commitment to the pursuit of continuous improvement and smart growth in every aspect of our university.” (President Stumb took office in 2015, and since then the university population has grown by nearly 50 percent according to Harville.)
Students don’t often realize the localized importance of registering to vote.
“There were a handful of students who came to speak,” Dr. Henson says. "But if you don’t have an organized group of voters influencing politicians, then the politicians will do whatever the loudest voters say.”
Over 18? Register to vote online at: https://ovr.govote.tn.gov