‘Gaze on the faces of those you are hurting’: H2GO commissioners given packets with photos of schoolchildren

Published: Dec. 18, 2018 at 4:54 AM EST
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SOUTHEASTERN NC (WECT) - Pictures of area students used without their parents' permission came under fire Monday.

Those photos, with what some might perceive as inflammatory captions, were handed out to three H2GO commissioners following the November board meeting.

For more than a year, the H2GO board has been at odds with some of its customers over the building of a reverse osmosis plant aimed at getting rid of GenX in the drinking water.

The packets included photos of Belville Elementary and Leland Middle school students, and were distributed to commissioners Jeff Gerken, Bill Beer, and Trudy Trombley in an attempt to get some of them to change their mind.

The captions under the photos have at least one commissioner concerned.

A caption under a photo of Belville Elementary students read, "Which of the unsuspecting students in this picture will die early because of contaminants in Cape Fear River water that cannot currently be removed by Brunswick County? Gaze on the faces of those you are hurting commissioner Gerken.”

The photos were taken from the Brunswick County School System’s website by Steven Hosmer and Barry Loub, two Compass Pointe residents in favor of the RO plant.

“That was strictly a personal plea to those three commissioners to look at the faces of those students that they’re impacting by refusing to give them clean water so that these students are potentially contracting diseases that will leave them not able to make their 10th reunion,” said Hosmer.

Gerken planned to bring up the packet at the board meeting Monday, saying the statements crossed the line.

“Whatever possessed them to put out a document like this with these horribly inflammatory statements and pictures of these innocent children without approval from anyone at the schools, without the approval from the parents of these poor kids," Gerken said. "Take your shots at me. Take your shots at the other commissioners. Do not involve the kids.”

Gerken brought the packet to the attention of Brunswick County Schools administrators. The school system’s spokesperson sent us the following statement:

“I contacted the individuals involved and explained to them that they are not allowed to use photos of kids for any type of personal campaign without each parent’s written consent for what they intend to use them for. They apologized and said they only used them for the packet to the commissioners and would cease and desist using any school photos for personal use. As of right now, no further action is being taken.”

Hosmer said the packets were never created for anyone except the three commissioners opposing the RO plant.

“The captions were not in any way student specific. They never said this student here is going to have this problem in the future. The captions were general. They were informational and the pictures were merely illustrative of a group of students. So there was no specific referral to any of the students in there. I don’t personally see it as a problem and they were only given to these three people, ” Hosmer said.

Gerken said taking this type of action in order to sway an opinion comes off as a threat.

“There are people who are generally concerned but is their concern based on science or is it just driven by people who didn’t get their way and are trying to force me, or Trudy, or Bill to change our position," Gerken said. "They’re basically saying ‘do what we want or we will put threats out. We will put brochures out.’”

At Monday’s meeting, the H2GO board tabled a proposal to accept an agreement to complete the reverse osmosis plant.

Jeff Gerken, the H2GO board chairman, said H2GO water is safe.

“The water that is provided by the county and distributed by H2GO is safe water," Gerken said. "It meets every state and federal guideline and that’s the case now. The contaminants that were in the water have been drastically reduced and are down at a level now that there is very little legitimate concern about the safety of the water.”

Supporters say the plant would provide clean drinking water for H2GO customers. The proposal will be brought up again at the board’s January meeting.

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