Litmus Tests 2014
When faced with a litmus test on whether to work toward progress in the future of the city or to simply prepare as best we can for demise, city leaders and their policies opt for the latter.
In other words, we turn against doing something different or even taking a chance on something that might work , just for the sake of not failing.
If you look at the city today, it’s hard to conclude that over the past decades we’ve been embracing strategies that were too bold, too risky — no, it’s been either to embrace no strategy at all or to continue the strategies of old that failed.
In my view, the city leadership has failed in a number of key litmus tests in the past several years. From the school boards that shutter schools and wonder why academic performance suffers to school boards that shutter a museum so its holdings can float down the river. Or, the city and community leaders who shun outside investment and investors so city taxpayers can shoulder the bond costs of demolition lest someone from outside the city achieve success — Chalmers and Esquire.
There might be a few more but I think you see the underlying principles at work.
Today, we have two litmus tests facing the city: a Youth Rec Center and a Casino.
For the casino, you see broad support by every public agency and every public leader. Interestingly, the casino will undoubtedly require outside investors and will undoubtedly require public monies yet a casino is embraced as a positive, a game changer for the community even though the very notion of public monies and outside investors in every other circumstance never pass the litmus test.
For the Recreation Center, I expect that you will see broad-based opposition merely due to the fact that it will cost city taxpayers money. So while the city can bond millions of dollars to demolish stuff year-in-year-out, I expect that the notion of spending money to build something, will garner a loud clamor from the usual chorus of why a rec center is not feasible even before a single argument can be made.
The litmus tests posed by these two events are the following:
1) Do kids and families and a younger demographic have a civic and political voice in the city? Do they even matter?
2) Can the broader community pull together to build something BIG or is the city always destined to give-up on BIG even before trying?
3) Is a casino the end-all-and-be-all for the city in terms of economic and community development? What happens if the casino fails to site locally, what then?
4) What does it tell us about our community leadership that a casino rallies broad based support but any other development initiative meets the shredding gears of local politics to render it impossible?
5) What future state are we building?
Based upon past experiences, I will say that the rec center will be killed not because it is impossible to achieve but simply because it is something for a younger demographic.
For the casino, I expect that it will garner support regardless of broader questions on the viability and desirability of casino as an effective development tool for the city and the broader area.
Whether the past is indicative of the future will be clear as the casino and rec center litmus tests play out.