Yesterday I used my camera phone to make a ghetto-style video about issues I see with Douglas County’s involvement in a resort and conference center at Foxhall Farms. I put it out on Facebook, and it seemed to help people see that there was a problem, so that was good. I wrote a blog post about it, wrote my current and former County Commissioners, and also posted some articles I found about the developer’s other projects and how many of them had gone belly-up in a big way. This morning I took advantage of the public comment portion of the meeting of the Board of Commissioners to make sure that at least some public opposition to our involvement went on record.
Doing these things took several hours out of the day between yesterday and today. I can be somewhat flexible because I’m a freelancer and I don’t punch a time clock or have anyone standing over me. But if I’m not working or marketing, I’m not putting money in the pipeline that helps keep my family running and, if there’s surplus (a rarity these days), prepares us for the future. So I choose my battles carefully. And I try like hell to get help so whatever I can devote is amplified, not wasted.
I know at least several people e-mailed their commissioner between yesterday and this morning’s meeting. Despite the resistance to the Foxhall plan, we lost the battle over the initial resolution. The Board went to great lengths to reassure everyone listening that we weren’t committing to anything. This was “only” a first step to move the project forward. Following that big display of caution, they voted, unanimously, to approve a resolution allowing Chairman Tom Worthan to talk to the Development Authority about “a potential financing structure” for the “Public Foxhall Improvements.” I’m guessing “financing structure” means us guaranteeing about $39 million in bonds for the conference center portion of the project.
I do believe, however, that the war against using our money – even “just” to guarantee the project – could still be won. At minimum I think continued pressure to not risk taxpayer funds may net us less exposure. But I’ll tell you one thing: It sure as hell won’t be won with only one person making a fuss about it. I’m easy to dismiss. Just ask my kids. So if you don’t want to be reading about another taxpayer-funded boondoggle or millage rate increase in a few years, you’d better show up, write, call – whatever you can do.
The Board of Commissioners meetings are a pain in the ass to attend. I know this. They’re on Monday and Tuesday mornings when most everyone is at work. Some people who aren’t at their job are home sleeping off their night shift, or their spouse’s night shift. Others are home, but have to shuffle things around to show up at these things. Whether it’s this or any other issue in the county (or city), you’re just going to have to weigh out for yourself what’s at stake and decide if you’re in for a particular battle. You should err on the side of showing up if you’re in a quandary, because honestly, so few do. And the board does listen.
They seem hellbent to have this conference center, however, and I don’t know what to do about that.
Which brings me to the title of this post. Douglas County, Georgia has a lot going for it, if one is going to live, work or play in Georgia. But, like many places in the country, the layers of government – federal, state, county and in some cases, city – inhibit economic freedom and prosperity, at least for the little guy who doesn’t have a team of professionals to devote to dealing with bureaucracy.
The county government, which most directly affects my life, meets four times per month, not including committee meetings, planning and zoning, or any of the other ancillary groups. As I mentioned earlier, they meet during the workday. If I show up, they’ll let me speak before they get underway, but I can’t ask questions during the meeting, and I most definitely do not get a vote. The school board meets every other week. If I want to address the board I have to put in a request four days beforehand. There is very little public participation, which means both the Board of Commissioners and School Board operate largely unchecked.
Every once in a while there’ll be some big hullaballoo that brings more of the public out and undoubtedly drives the members of the affected board slightly insane. But really, the county government and its budget have gotten so big that a lot goes unnoticed. People are more into their favorite sports team or reality show. By comparison, civic involvement is mostly un-sexy. As long as the growth only adds a few dollars per year to everyone’s tax bills they’d rather foot the bill than deal with the hassle of providing input. Small price to pay when you’d rather be watching football, y’know?
I’m not sure why the town meeting never took hold here, but I think it’d be a cure for much of what ails us. In New Hampshire, there is almost no county government in most places. Town government varies, but most towns hold annual meetings and they are participatory. You discuss. You vote. You don’t just get a take-it-or-leave-it budget – you talk about all the items under consideration and the ramifications of voting for or against them. And you only do it one bloody time per year. If your neighbor decides he’d rather go fishing than go to the town meeting, he gives up his one chance to impact his property taxes. Since that’s the main way things are funded in New Hampshire, citizens are thoughtful and deliberate when it comes to spending. Town meeting participation rates are not phenomenal – I’ve read an estimate of 10 – 15% – but they’re much higher than what I’ve seen here in Douglas County, at Board of Commissioners or City of Douglasville council meetings.
I’m tired of trying to keep up with the countless ways our full-time government tries to grow each month. Multiple times each month. I don’t do a good job because I have other responsibilities that are more important, and I pick and choose what I’m going to fuss about. I miss a lot. Also, I’m not great with math involving millions of dollars. Also, I lose most every battle because few others care and government loves to make the case for more government.
I can’t wait to attend my first town meeting.