The death of common sense hits home

Published 7:30 pm Friday, February 7, 2014

I don’t know about you, but it feels to me like the world I grew up in has turned upside down.

The values we learned at home, in school and in our churches influenced our thinking and behavior. There were consequences if we stepped out of line. The difference between right and wrong was clear and well understood.

Traditional families were central to our society; people lived within their means, paid their bills and worked for what they had. Vows and oaths were taken seriously.

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Today we accept without question that living beyond our means, both in our personal lives as well as in our government, is fully acceptable. Government has grown like the Blob in an early sci-fi movie to where it’s suffocating private enterprise, invading our personal lives and imposing a withering financial burden on taxpayers.

We have reached this point in a conscious state, willingly and fully aware that it will have to come crashing down. Yet we continue to feed its fire. Other societies throughout history that fell into similar cycles were conquered or declined to extinction. Are we running like lemmings to the brink?

One day last week, as I have begun to do after achieving septuagenarian status, I spotted an obituary of someone I had known all my life. An old friend of yours and mine, Common Sense, had died.

Could this be why we, in the face of indisputable evidence, continue to increase our debt levels to where our grandchildren will be unable to repay? Could this be why we refuse to work across party lines to solve crises in national security, health insurance, immigration and education?

I think there’s evidence that the death of Common Sense has also manifested itself in Polk County.

Following the election of the current board of commissioners, the interim position of county manager was replaced with someone who ran on the same ticket but lost. There were more qualified and certified candidates not considered. Common Sense would have interviewed, maybe using a citizens’ panel, and selected the most qualified person.

The previous board of commissioners approved funding sponsorship of the Green River Games. This international competition was supported to bring recognition to Polk County as an outdoor adventure destination with the potential of bringing jobs and revenue here. The NC Department of Natural Resources withheld approval of a permit to hold the games.

When asked to intervene, the current board of commissioners balked. Members of the economic and tourism development commission called on State Representative Chris Whitmire to help with the logjam, which he did. Common Sense would have done the same.

The White Oak equestrian development project is probably the most significant private undertaking to produce jobs and revenue for Polk County in years. The benefits to the county are multiple; justification a no-brainer. Yet, where one would have expected unqualified support from our board of commissioners, they remained non-committal through the approval process.

Fortunately, the project was approved, work is under way and there will be a win-win outcome for all involved. Common Sense would have fast-tracked the project, helped with the public meetings and assisted in removing impediments as needed.

Another example was reported in the Jan. 21 Tryon Daily Bulletin article, “Polk County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) goes dormant.”  A citizen’s committee of volunteers worked on behalf of the community and board of commissioners for more than two years to create a new ordinance to reduce waste and regulation redundancy. More than $74,000 was spent by the county, of which $57,000 went to a consultant and $17,000 for legal services.

The work of the committee was reported at monthly meetings to which the public was invited and opportunity made for comment. Members of the board of commissioners were part of the committee. Apparently the UDO suffered a similar fate as did Common Sense.

If Common Sense had lived, he’d have followed the work of the UDO Committee, attended periodic reviews and made needed changes so the product would have been acceptable as delivered. The committee’s work could have been rewarded with support and the public better served.

Currently, we have another situation where a volunteer committee and a consultant are involved. The Polk County Economic and Tourism Development Commission (ETDC), established by county ordinance, is an advisory board to the county commissioners.

Thirteen citizen volunteers, a contracted director and part-time paid associate are responsible to advise, plan and prepare a strategic plan for economic development. They operate on a budget and resources, which compared to other nearby NC counties, are appreciably smaller.

Without involving the director or the ETDC, the county commissioners hired a consultant to essentially do the same work as the ETDC. There has been no interaction or sharing of information or ideas. At the working meetings, the public has not been allowed an opportunity for input. I wonder how the director and ETDC members feel about being left out of the process for which they have a primary responsibility?

If Common Sense had not been deceased, a more reasonable process might have been used. Perhaps Common Sense would have suggested the county commissioners meet with the ETDC and discuss the strategic plan, the advisability of a paid consultant, his credentials and role? Common Sense might also have established an interactive process with provision for reviews and public input.

We, as stakeholders in both this beautiful country and county need to question why government at any level tends to follow a process that doesn’t make (common) sense. Even deceased, we need to be true to his memory. Perhaps it’s not too late to return to a state of responsible and accountable governance.

– John Dennis Hill