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  • Last modified 148 days ago (July 19, 2018)

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A dilly-dilly of a deal on economic development

There’s something both comforting and frightening about small-town America, where the trees meet across the street and you wave your hand and say hello to everyone you meet.

Venturing here for four months a year, I’m always struck by what stays the same and what changes.

Those trees that meet across the street are getting chopped down as quickly as shriveled corn plants. And except in Central Park, rarely do they seem to be replaced.

Friend Mother, who provides nightly refuge from tar-and-feather gangs searching for my whereabouts, spends her days spoiling my cat — this time, addicting her to canned food, the tuna-flavored meth of the feline world — and battling raccoons to ensure that squirrels are able to consume quantities gifted peanuts sufficient to stock every vendor at Kaufman Stadium.

You still have to worry whether local restaurants actually will be open when they say they are. You still have to drive at least half an hour to find a movie house — and, fortunately, to consume the questionably homogenized wares of Wal-Mart or McDonald’s.

You still can’t buy sushi and flatbread at four in the morning. The only place you might — Casey’s — probably wouldn’t be your first choice if you could.

And as surely as vultures perch on the town’s old water tower each night, economic development in Marion County is filled with intrigue, controversy, and inefficiency.

Although Hillsboro and Peabody — the “ancillaries,” as development board members call them — continue to financially support the county’s economic development group for now, Marion’s withdrawal seems to be the first nail in its coffin.

Despite the group finally coming up with a good lead to become executive director, truth is the entire effort appears to have been stillborn.

Unvarnished truth isn’t too highly regarded in towns where you wave your hand and say hello to everyone you meet — which makes it a bit hard to be in the news business. But the central, unspoken fact behind the entire push for a countywide group needs to be recalled.

The reason supporters wanted cities involved was so county commissioners, our Keystone Cops equivalent of the old rotating Yugoslavian triumphirate, couldn’t muck things up.

Perhaps the time has come to stop bandaging wounds commissioners routinely inflect upon each other and, by extension, the rest of us in the county by facing facts.

After decades of turmoil with multiple different players, it’s clear that changing the faces of the people sitting in the commissioners’ meeting room or bringing in a costly administrator to sit there with them won’t solve the problem.

What we need to do is get rid of having three monarchs for three separate districts and elect a single county executive who answers to a board of maybe five county legislators, elected more or less at large.

Listening to 40 minutes of discussion Monday about bids on road signs and blown engines in pickup trucks, then hearing question-and-answer time when each regional fief asked about favors or problems brought forward by subjects within his or her district reveals the true problem.

Were the county to cede control of the lake over to the city of Marion and allow it to be annexed into the town that already provides it water and sewer, we might actually see fixed access roads and something like a major resort being built and leased out to private vendors — a boon to development greater than anything the dying development corporation could dream of.

But who in his or her right mind would want to undertake such a project if it were to be supervised by three fiefs, regardless of personality, holding court in the commissioners’ hall of audiences?

Every night, Friend Mother brings in her peanuts less a coon get them. If the answer for her is to get rid of the coon, maybe the answer for county economic development is to get rid of a dysfunctional structure of government that seems to fail regardless of who’s in office.

Many well-meaning people have occupied seats on the ruling side of the commissioners’ table. Changing who’s in the seats may not be as important as changing the entire nature of the table and chairs.

Now is the time to give serious thought to a home-rule alternative, before we watch development go down and whatever windfall we face from enhanced taxpayer revenue greedily eaten up by yet another costly study, encouraged by county workers, that tells us how underpaid they are — even though there never seems to be trouble finding people willing to work for the well-above-average wages and benefits the county offers in comparison to private enterprise.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 19, 2018

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