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  • Last modified 20 days ago (May 2, 2024)

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Everything grows better in sunshine

Openness. Transparency. They’re good words. Nearly every politician, including all who won seats last fall on Marion’s city council, routinely stresses them in campaigns.

But what do they mean? It’s not just a matter of restoring public comment periods or making sure topics aren’t voted on until after they are broached at a previous meeting. It’s a commitment to encouraging public engagement in everything government does.

Too often, decisions are made behind closed doors. Sometimes, this involves executive sessions. More often, it involves private discussions, one official idly chatting with another in advance of a meeting. We see hints of this having happened at virtually every meeting we attend.

Seemingly innocent conversations can stack the deck against broad public input. This becomes especially problematic when private groups proclaim take-it-or-leave-it plans that benefit a select few — and that anyone daring to question is pummeled for negativity.

Peabody is becoming one of the more progressive communities in the county. Rather than propose sweetheart deals or projects with mainly recreational impact, it has arranged for grants — not for predetermined developments but for whatever developments members of the community would like to propose.

It is following up this week on what had been a very open process to secure funding for neighborhood revitalization by offering business sites to anyone and everyone who might have an idea.

A community group has purchased historic buildings, arranged grants to pay for structural repairs, and is offering all or parts of these buildings to potential tenants or owners. It even is teaching potential entrepreneurs how to write successful proposals to obtain more money for everything from customizing floorplans to obtaining inventory.

A further idea for a business incubator helping those without capital to start a business is far more community-minded than running fund drives for mainly recreational facilities. Meanwhile, Peabody’s target of developing highly specialized boutique businesses that might appeal to distant shoppers is 100% a bull’s eye.

A hallmark of Peabody’s efforts has been its sponsorship of a series of public discussions at which anyone may present impactful ideas or questions and its creation of a well-publicized decision-making process that is both simple and readily understood.

Elsewhere, projects and actions too often are “gotchas.” One individual or group wants special treatment and gets it, or others lie in wait to pounce on someone if a misdeed is perceived. It’s as if leaders turn into overly caffeinated tax accountants, constantly on the lookout for loopholes.

We can’t help but point out that if police, instead of savoring what they thought was a “gotcha,” had merely asked us about a driving record we obtained and offered to answer questions about, the massively negative publicity Marion has received since our office was raided Aug. 11 could have been avoided.

Peabody appears well on its way to draining the proverbial swamp dammed up by public employees recruiting candidates to be sympathetic elected bosses and by small cliques trying to set agendas without seeking broad community input.

In a marketplace of ideas, no one should hold a monopoly. Peabody admirably seems to have figured out how to provide leadership that engages rather than dictates. It’s time for the rest of us to look to our neighbor to the south for a better way of making our communities great again.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified May 2, 2024

 

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