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Editorial: What Kind Of Community Do We Want?

This article first appeared in issue 14, and was written by Ed Waggener.

I have had only two conversations in my life which totally confounded me.

One was when I was asking directions in a small western Kentucky town and the two women in the little general store both told me they couldn't help.

When I asked if they could tell who to ask for directions, they said they didn't know anyone who could help. Then, out of the blue, it seems, one said, "Which way are you a-headed"? I told her and she said, and the other agreed, that she couldn't help me.

I said, tentatively, "What if I were headed in the other direction"?

One answered, "Oh, that's easy." and the other joined in, "Yeah if you're headed in that direction, you just go through the levee, go about five miles, and you'll see a sign that will tell you to go left to Walnut Log."

I have thought and thought about that one.

But the other one was even more puzzling.

I once asked a public official "What kind of a town do you want"

In all honesty, we don't all want the same things for Columbia and Adair County.

That official may want the community to be one thing. I may want another. This is America. It's each person's privilege.

The question, "What kind of a town do you want?" seemed fair enough to me.

But the official's reply to that question was mystifying. "Listen, Eddie," he scolded, "nobody loves Columbia more than me. No sir! Nobody can talk to me like that. I'm don't have to take that. Now, if you want to talk decent, I'm willing to talk. But if you're not, don't come putting me down." And the official hung up.

I have wondered about this one, and I have never figured it out, either.

What kind of town, what kind of county, what kind of community, do we want?

I've asked others. Many have very definite ideas about which directions they want the community to take, which values should have the greatest priorities, and about what's being done that ought not be done.

In just a few months, Columbia and Adair County will be electing officials again. And the question, "What kind of community do we want"? is more important than ever. What kind of leadership will it take to get it?

Things are different now.

In much of the past, Columbia and Adair County might aim for the stars, but we couldn't get much of what we wanted.

Now we can get anything we want, it seems. We have a different problem: We have to know the right things to want.

Columbia and Adair County are extremely well situated to grow. In fact, there seems no stopping it. The population studies show it. The building boom shows it. The number of new residents from out-of-state shows it. With little sales effort, people are buying Adair County at a record clip.

This is an easy place to sell. Columbia is one of America's prettiest towns. The countryside is an artist's dream. The opportunities are great. With up-links and down-links, low-cost long distance, Fed-X and UPS, we are close to everything in the world. The people are welcoming, friendly, generous, and accepting to a fault.

The problem: Will we let Columbia and Adair County be sold short?

* Will we have leaders who will take the high road, not the easy road?

* Will we have leadership to recognize which of the county's largest industries are already flourishing and offer the most economic benefit: Healthcare/psychiatry/biomed, higher education, both non-profit and for profit; forest products, and printing and publishing? Will we have the leadership to grow these?

* Will we have leadership which will remember the people already here and give equal opportunities to newcomers and present residents alike?

* Will we have leadership which will put as much emphasis on the environment as on development? To move quickly on land-use management. To adopt tough policies before we get unwelcome large-scale corporate hog and chicken farming?

* Will we have leadership, in Columbia, which can correct the taxing disparities which put residents and businesses in Columbia at a competitive disadvantage with their counterparts in the County?

* Will we have leadership which will enact the toughest ethics standards in the city and county and their political subdivisions? Ethics standards with stringent nepotism, conflict-of-interest, and pay-inequity standards?

* Will we have leadership which will have the courage to bring about urban-county (unified city-county) government?

* Will we have leadership which will have the wisdom to have token-cost e-mail, no-cost internet hookups, at-cost long distance service, cheap cable, available to all? To make Columbia and Adair County more friendly to home based businesses, high-tech businesses? To make the community more attractive for retirement?

* Will we have leadership which will make Columbia safe from both street and professional drug pushers? And never have the embarrassment again of neglect until drug trafficking warrants have to be issued for almost 1% of Columbia's population. (Figure it: 38 warrants in Columbia 4,600 population)?

* Will we have leadership with the courage to stand up to Frankfort, to say "No" to unnecessary bridge expenditures, regardless of whose property it enhances (whether it is a $54,000 bridge serving one official or a $2.5 million span over the Cumberland Parkway which only connects one pasture field with another)? To say "No" to a town-killing bypass (at Breeding)? And "Yes" to a bypass at Columbia only if it connects directly with an interchange on Hwy 61 S the Cumberland Parkway?

* Will we have leaders who will have the insight to redeploy law enforcement to protect Adair County's roadways, fields, streams, and yards from polluters? To establish an environmental police unit?

* Will we elect leaders who assure give every citizen, regardless of place of residence, the right to a peaceful, quiet life, free from health-threatening, life-shortening noise?

* And will we elect gender-balanced leadership? Will the next leaders end the gender imbalance on boards and in employment?

* Will we have leadership which recognizes the wealth of Adair County talent which is available to serve on boards? To establish a "one-person/one board-or-commission-seat" standard?

* Will we have leadership which make wellness a priority? Which gives us walking trails, bikeways, bike racks, sidewalks. Which makes Adair County safe for pedestrian and non-motorized traffic? Which works for more affordable preventive healthcare?

*Will we have leadership which will respect the natural beauty of the community and insist on beautiful public buildings and signage?

* Will we elect leaders whose taxing policies favor preservation? Which encourage development of traditional neighborhoods and towns? Policies to manage land resources for today and future generations?

These are a few of my questions? What are yours? In the elections next year, they could make all the difference. -Ed Waggener

This story was posted on 1997-06-15 12:01:01
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