News and Tribune

Columns

October 9, 2012

SUDDEATH: Leaders should keep public informed

NEW ALBANY — Last Tuesday’s New Albany Board of Zoning Appeals meeting in many ways illustrated what’s wrong with government.

Before the board was a proposal to allow a fire station at the former Camille Wright Pool center off Daisy Lane. Though the board wasn’t voting on the entire package, the establishment of the fire hall coincides with the closing and sale of the Green Valley Road Fire Station No. 4 adjacent to the State Street Kroger shopping center.

Aside from an apparent slip of the tongue when City Attorney Stan Robison declared during a recent city council meeting that the reason for the move was due to “Kroger expanding,” the administration has remained mum on naming who is eying the Green Valley Road station.

Though several residents asked during the BZA meeting what entity was attempting to buy the building, the only answer given was that it’s a viable economic development project. And even though every resident that spoke during the board meeting was opposed to the location of the fire hall off Daisy Lane, the body gave the proposal a 4-1 approval.

There are several reasons why this situation would cause people to question the role of government. Not that the board of zoning appeals isn’t qualified, or the staff that reviews such requests.

In fact, just the opposite could be said. New Albany has very skilled workers and the city’s planning and zoning department is considered top notch in the area.

But whomever the mystery developer is, as BZA member Jameson Bledsoe said, residents should matter more than businesses. This is not to say that moving the fire station to Daisy Lane is necessarily a bad idea, but why is it that governments are intent on keeping business negotiations so private anymore?

Should not the opposite be true when it comes to public property and services funded by taxpayers? Why can’t government start by proposing its ideas to the public, and letting the people who are paying their salaries weigh-in on the ideas before they are basically set in stone?

One resident that spoke during the BZA meeting alleged the vote had been decided before the meeting — that the members of the board already knew which way they would cast their ballot.

Whether or not that statement is true is likely only known by the members of the board, but when the majority of a body is appointed by the administration, and the administration is seeking to have something passed, which way do you think the votes are likely to go?

Generally when people run for office at any level they speak of transparency, community involvement and working for the taxpayer. While it is true that sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions that aren’t always popular but later prove to have been correct, such slogans usually don’t hold much weight once those people actually assume office.

If Robison hadn’t mentioned that Kroger was looking to expand, and the media reports didn’t bring the matter to light, how many people would have actually had an opportunity to state their opinions on the proposal publicly?

Furthermore, you have to wonder if speaking out against something really matters anymore. If business interests trump residential concerns at the local level, one can only imagine the sway corporate America has when it comes to state and federal decisions.

Of course, history has shown that if voters don’t feel they are being listened to, they’ll speak loudly at the polls and elect new leaders with a more attentive ear.

But why wait until then, and will the cycle ever change?

Also, people play a big part in this. The more you stay informed, voice your opinions and vote, the less likely government officials will be able to ignore your concerns and wishes.

Economic development and corporations absolutely matter, but to our elected and appointed officials, informing and serving residents should be their top order of business.

— Staff Writer Daniel Suddeath can be reached at daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com or by calling 812-206-2151.

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