A very impressive teacher once told me, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This has stuck with me for more than 30 years. From that day forward, I’ve made planning an important part of everything I do. I take it so seriously I plan to be spontaneous. So when I heard Chesterfield County was going to review, renew and restate our comprehensive plan, it sounded like a good idea to me.
I attended the first meeting when the Planning Commission unveiled the goals and the outside consultants. At that meeting, they assured those attending there would be public meetings to discuss the agenda items determined after many months of work by our planning department. I asked if anyone appreciated the difference between being asked to debate the items on an agenda and setting the agenda. The question wasn’t answered. I asked why we needed outside consultants when we have a fully-staffed planning department on the county payroll. Another non-answer left me feeling the fix was in. He who sets the agenda determines the goal.
Now, we’re told that after many meetings and many charges by our consultants they’re ready to submit a draft vision statement. A community vision is all about what goes where and why. The best you can hope for is that your what fits into the government’s where and you agree with why. There’ve been public meetings to be sure, and those who have been involved have had a voice.
Just as there is no way to count the votes not cast, there is no way to gauge the interest or record the desires of those who don’t attend these meetings. We’re taught those who don’t vote shouldn’t complain. But does not voting void a person’s citizenship? If not, why should not voting void their right to complain? Perhaps there wasn’t anyone running they wanted to vote for. Perhaps they’ve learned that choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. Those who don’t attend the comprehensive plan meetings can’t ask questions and expect answers? If you attend and ask questions but receive no answer, why would you attend again?
In any debate over a false premise, how can you arrive at a sound conclusion? Much of what passes for political debate in our country today is tainted by this false premise problem. Instead of debating the size of the deficit, why not debate whether we should eliminate deficits? Instead of debating how many soldiers to send to foreign wars, why not debate whether we should fight wars without declarations of war?
Locally, we’re writing vision statements for plans to tell us this goes here and that goes there, leaving anyone wanting this to go there instead of here up Swift Creek without a paddle. Maybe we should debate whether we need such a highly-structured plan. Conventional wisdom says we have to have plans and zones and restrictive building codes to protect us from rapacious developers and gangster capitalists, but without developers and capitalists we’ve no development and no commerce. Instead of visions of how to restrict, we should seek a vision on how to assist and promote.
The five C’s encompass objectives many citizens share. Greenways, walking paths and bike lanes are great, but perhaps we should be discussing why we need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on developing a new plan now? When we’re laying people off and cutting programs, do we need to send money out of the county for consultants? Instead, why aren’t we discussing how we wean our county off the addicting subsidies from state and federal governments that make us the puppet at the end of their strings?
Why aren’t we looking into eliminating or changing practices to save money; for example, why does a fire truck accompany every ambulance call? For years, our volunteer emergency squads served us well without this. It might make sense in an auto accident, but when Gamma falls in the shower, why do we need to fire up the trucks and block the roads. Some school districts are now requiring students to purchase their own textbooks, except in hardship cases. Back in the day everyone had to pay a book rental fee each semester. These things may sound harsh after years of government trying to be all things to all people, but we can’t afford what we can’t afford. We can’t print money and we can’t charge it to the kids, so we’ve got to cut something somewhere. We don’t have a bridge to nowhere, but are our highly-paid outside consultants selling us a yellow-brick road to somewhere when what we need is a new here? It’s time to tighten our belts, kick the subsidy habit and learn how to stand on our own. How about a vision of us as an oasis of economic stability in a sea of red ink?
Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College and History for the American Public University System. http://drrobertowens.com © 2010 Robert R. Owens. firstname.lastname@example.org | 751-0421