I have sympathy for elected officials. I honestly, truly do.
Thatís not a tongue-in-cheek statement, I really mean it. The hassles, the insurmountable problems, the day-to-day effort just to get something done has got to be demanding and sometimes quite frustrating.
So donít get me wrong, I donít really think all public officials are bad guys. A few are absolute bums, to be sure, but in general, most of our elected officials are decent, hard-working folks.
When I am critical, though, I am showing my frustration not with evil or malice or criminal intent. I am showing my frustration with ineptitude and lack of vision. And I am forwarding the frustration funneled through me from citizens on the streets, in the cafes and the supermarkets.
I do not comprehend many things, but hereís two big ones: An officialdom that is so out-of-touch with the populace it was elected to represent, and a populace that expresses itself in no other way than the breakfast clutch or the water-cooler and smoke-break gatherings.
I accuse a failing of government that is rooted in a mistaken belief that its concerns are exclusively brick and mortar. It is still operating on a premise Ė in this community at least Ė learned when its foundation was firmly constructed upon oil companies and fabrication and service industry.
I submit that government has not evolved one iota in the two decades since the oil bust of 1986, has not adapted and has not learned. It believes the concerns of government are narrow, and the concerns of community outside the realm of police, fire, utility and infrastructure are within the purview of "someone else." Who that someone may be exactly, remains a mystery.
I donít know what it takes to get our officialdom to see. All the smooth streets, flushable toilets and clean water are certainly top of the priority list, I donít dispute that. All the mosquito controls and waste pickups and drainage issues are mega-important.
And theyíre doing a good job on most of those things. Letís be clear.
But vision is limited. Imagination is at an all-time low.
No, government should not be in the festival business. Yet, government should absolutely, positively without a doubt be in the community promotion business and lend a helping hand whenever necessary. Government might not be in the youth softball business, either, but they are. And in boys and girls clubs. And in arts and entertainment.
And dang well they should!
Compare, if you will, the festivals east of the Calumet Cut Ė where the entire community throws itself whole-heartedly into making them successful Ė with those on this end, which are nice and good, but seem to hit a finite point of growth and stall out.
"They got to pay," is a worn-out and misused fallacy spouted by government far too much these days. They have to pay for police protection at festivals. They have to pay for use of public facilities. They have to pay for this and that.
They have already paid through every purchase they make in the community, every check written to the tax collector. They will continue to pay through the people who attend their functions, buy, buy, and buy.
Itís really a simple equation. Why canít a government that administrates mega-million dollar budgets grasp it?
Someone suggested this: If you have a new business coming into town, and theyíre constructing a big building requiring a lot of permits and feesÖwhy not give them their first year in your city tax-free? The number-crunchers recoil in horror, but letís say your tax revenues are something simple like $5. If you taxed the new guy, it would go up to $6. By not taxing him, you stay at $5 for one more year, and get $6 for the years to come, especially if your generosity helped him become successful.
Successful communities are communities where government bends over backward to help. Where government inconveniences itself for the greater good. You see these communities all over the place, even in Louisiana. Because they stretch out to make themselves known, recognized and respected.
The failure of government in this community is lack of imagination, lack of vision and stubborn insistence that "someone else" should handle its investment in its future. We do a good job with sports and we do a good job with recreation. We do a good job with drainage, sewerage and utilities.
But weíre preaching to the choir, folks. Weíre not bringing in anything new.
Thereís no GM plant coming, gang. No Union Carbide tank fabricator. Iím talking people, people who have demonstrated their attraction to this community time and time and time again, people from across the world who stop just short of standing in a public officialís face, grabbing them by the ears and screaming at the top of their lungs, "WE LOVE YOUR TOWN AND EVERYBODY ELSE WILL, TOO!!!" and said officials still donít get it.
All the capital projects under sunny Creation do nothing to advance the prosperity of a community, they merely maintain the status quo at best, catches it up at worst.
Look at it this way: If I am a business owner, and I paint my inside walls and lay new floor and get nice counter tops and great prints for the wallsÖIíve done nothing whatsoever to induce anyone to walk through the front door and experience it. Iíve done it all for myself, and thatís fine and dandy!
Weíll enjoy our roads, flushable toilets and drinkable water. Top priorities, to be sure.
But thatís standstill economics. Itís like a movie reel stuck in freeze-frame.
Successful communities are made that way by its people and its government. Both must be willing to lend a hand and see the forest for the trees.
Itís not enough to create a tourist commission or make some economic and community development jobs or hire liaisons.
Public officials often strut around like theyíre so proud of themselves that the waterís running, the toilet flushes and the electricityís on in the house. Never mind that the paint is peeling off in huge flakes, the gutters are rusted out, the foundation is sinking and the last visitor was longer ago than they can remember.
Thereís more to forests, than trees.
But, "Thatís (insert some scapegoat here) job," they say.
Thatís a cop-out. Itís a washing-our-hands-of-it because "now itís somebody elseís job" attitude. As if weíre not all in this together. Like we donít all sink and drown at once.
Well, thatís the bottom line, isnít it? Weíll all go down with the ship together. Some of us, however, have to raise the alarm when we spot the iceberg off the starboard bow. The captain might be really grouchy over being awakened from his nap, but hey, thatís what comes with being in command.