The Shallowness of Local Policymaking (and Some Policymakers)


local scene
Consider a woman who walks into an auto dealer to buy a new car. She asks him about the price of one of his cars, and he tells her that it’s a great bargain. She asks the dealer why it’s a great bargain, and he tells her he can prove it, handing her a piece of paper with twelve words in bright red type:

I can assure you that this is a great bargain, believe me!

What would one say about this? Reasonably, one would say that the prospective buyer should (and would) ask fundamental questions about the purchase — no one would expect her to make a major choice simply in reliance on a few words in large, red type.  Indeed, no one would teach a child to make purchases simply in reliance on a seller’s printed, but unsupported, assertion.

And yet, and yet, policy and policymaking in Whitewater over the last generation often falls below the standard one would expect – and hope – of a competent young adult.

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If a student in our high school produced a story of a company’s prospects with little more than that company’s press release selectively highlighted in red type, he or she would reasonably expect a poor grade. Whitewater’s policymakers think so little of quality that when a longtime politician-publisher-school-board member does the same, the effort passes for a news story.

A bridge to nowhere, an ‘Innovation Center’ that’s a dull office building built on grants for another purpose (now used mostly for public-sector workers), a failed tax incremental district, an unused (now defunct) ‘innovation express’ bus line, crowing about taxpayer-funded state capitalism at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, an unsound, but twice-proposed digester energy project, and flacking for mediocre & mendacious insiders: that’s not a fit legacy for a serious, competent policymaking. (A best business citizen designation from the WEDC is the state’s way of saying least-competent grasp of simple economics.)

These many years have yielded an embarrassing legacy of weak thinking and weak projects.

When residents of Whitewater – and other small towns in this state – look out at empty shops, cracked streets, and above-average child poverty, perhaps some will console themselves that they endured all this for an aged generation’s pride, so that a few could proclaim themselves visionaries, movers and shakers, influencers, dignitaries, whatever.

Although some may console themselves this way, Whitewater – and other small towns in this state –  inauspiciously see each year an exodus of many of their best, most creative young people to other places, convinced that they’d rather not live their lives stagnantly under a few aged residents’ false, self-serving claims.

Here one encounters a sad irony: those who fancy themselves ‘Whitewater advocates’ have repeatedly pushed policies, and an unchecked boosterism, that have only reduced Whitewater’s appeal to a new generation.