Sunday, September 6, 2009

Let's End the Sound Bites

This region is facing some difficult challenge. We are the fourth largest, fastest growing region in the Commonwealth. How are we going to deal with growing demands on our transportation system? How are we going to ensure that future development can be sustained and support a quality of life we expect? How do we deal with funding cuts from state and federal sources? Should local government expect more authority from the state in dealing with these issues? These are some of key question that need to be answered.

It is unfortunate that we have become a "sound bite" society. Complex questions like those above are now condensed into a single phrase of twenty-five word or less with the focus on politics rather than policy. Phrases chosen more to rally the faithful , or scare a constituency, rather than working towards solutions. If we are to successfully deal with the challenges we face we need elected officials who are prepared to present their vision for their locality, and the region, and how to achieve it in more than a sound bite.

"No new taxes," or, "We just need to cut wasteful spending," are neither visions nor plans. Nor are the now common refrains, "We need to stop evil developers," or, "development must pay for itself." If we are serious about jobs, our children's education, our family's safety , and our future quality of life we cannot allow these statement to go unchallenged.

If there are to be no new taxes then we must question how services and education are to be maintained? If the answer is we can cut wasteful spending then where will the cuts come from and how much? If you are prepared to stand by such a pledge you should be expected to know exactly how to achieve it. Finally, how do you see the locality developing over the next 20 years under such a policy?

If we are to stop the evil developers then how are we going to provide higher paying jobs? How are we going to deal with the growth pressures in the region? If the response is we will make development pay for itself than the question is how will that impact the cost of a house or the square foot cost for commercial development? What will be the impact on the localities future tax base? And again, how do you see the locality developing under such a policy over the next 20 years?

For every campaign promise, made by a candidate, regardless of party affiliation, they must be prepared to answer how a particular proposal will be achieved and how it fits in their long term vision for the locality. No matter the issue, or the promise made, if a candidate cannot get beyond the sound bite they bring nothing to the table that will help either their locality or this region in dealing with the challenges we face.

In my seven years on the City Council I cannot claim credit for any of the achievements that have been made. The river easement, the construction of new schools and recreational facilities, business recruitment , all required at least (3) other votes to bring them to reality. Being able to work with other elected officials is an important aspect of the job.

At this juncture we cannot afford more political posturing to embarrass the other side, be obstructionist hoping it will affect the outcome of the next elections, or stick a finger in the air and try to guess which way the political wind is blowing. As localities, and as a region, we do not have the luxury of time in dealing with the transportation, development, and quality of life issues we now face.

How a candidate will secure those three votes to move his plans forward is just as important as the plans themselves. Is it an all or nothing approach or is there a willingness to accept less if that is all that can be achieved under the current circumstances. One thing I have learned in governance is that getting from point "A" to point "B" is seldom achieved by the most direct route.

Residents of Spotsylvania and Stafford will be voting this November for members of their respective Boards of Supervisors. These two localities represent the vast majority of the population of this region and are on the front lines of the growth issues we face. The affect of these elections will impact the region.

For the sake of not only the future quality of life for the residents of those localities; but for the region as well, I hope to see a rebellion against sound bite politics and the beginning of a reasoned and spirited dialogue on a shared vision for the future. All it takes to begin the revolution is to ask a question.


What is your opinion of the press coverage on local issues?

3 comments:

Larry G said...

well both counties turned down the ability to assess up to 47K in transportation impact fees even after voters approved transportation referenda making a clear statement that they're willing to pay for specific projects.

I think what folks don't care for is decisions made without asking them.

People want local accountability for transportation decision-making before they are going to sign on to higher taxes.

They do not want a regional version of VDOT.

46 other states "do" transportation on the local and regional level.

there is more communication, less sound bites and more accountability on decisions and taxes.

and in my view.. that's not a bad way to go.

E. Martin said...

GET R DONE MATT!

Larry G said...

I thought some folks might be interested in this POLL about the public attitude toward transportation needs and how to pay for them:

http://www.hntb.com/sites/default/files/issues/America%20THINKS%20Funding%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf