The list runs in reverse order, from mildly frightening to super scary.
10. The Census. It’s only a year away, and in can’t be avoided — a decennial census is a federal, constitutional requirement. A true and complete count will shatter the view that we’re a homogeneous and prosperous community. There is simply no way a correct and complete count won’t show an increasingly multi-ethnic community. The 2000 numbers may have been an undercount in this regard, and 2010 count will reveal greater diversity now. There’s no going back to homogeneity, and absolutely no reason to want to go back.
Generally, regardless of ethnicity, we’re surely a poorer community since the recession. Unemployment is much higher, and the last decade has done nothing to shelter us against comparative economic decline.
There are surely some in Whitewater who will blanch at the truth, and resent its statistical confirmation.
9. Squirrels. We have a campaign or task force for everything except rampant rodentism. If someone were to sneeze within twenty feet of our
City Hall Municipal Building, City Manager Kevin Brunner might decry that city workers were being maligned, but no one does anything about squirrel infestation.
We worry about loose dogs in town, and who’ll take them to a shelter, when there are loose rodents who mock humanity at every turn.
8. Task Forces. When I walk outside, I don’t see a launch pad, rockets, or a space center: We’re not Cape Canaveral. I don’t see the Capitol Dome, either: We’re not Washington, D.C. Places like that could use a few task forces, perhaps, to help figure out why space shuttles keep exploding, or why federal programs function poorly. We’re not NASA, or Congress — why gather a task force for everything, as cover for simply doing one’s job in a town of only fourteen thousand?
Why, also, so many task forces, when many of them involve the same, small cast of characters? There could be one big task force, the Committee Responsible for Engineering Everything Properly, with the same six apologists, two politicians, three bureaucrats, and four clueless busybodies.
You want efficiency in government? There you go. My pleasure, I’m sure.
7. Fawning Reporters. In big cities, reporters understand that they have a role to play, for a large readership, to report candidly and often critically about public actions. Some go astray, and if they do, they catch hell for it.
Here, the deadly infection of access turns community reporters into zombies for local politicians. Sometimes they flack for a whole insiders’ group, sometimes for a few politicians and bureaucrats within the group (the better to conceal bias). Nothing holds a small town back like a bad community press, telling the community only what a few politicians and bureaucrats want it to hear, and hiding or distorting the rest.
6. Accreditation. Suppose you’re a small town police chief, and you want to do right by your community. You could work alongside your officers, be visible on foot throughout the town, side by side with your force and neighbors.
Alternatively, you could look around for a self-selected group that accredits police departments, on any number of trivial points, while sitting at home, battening on the natural feelings of support in your town for policing. You’d probably also want to make sure that people call you something homespun, like ‘Chief,’ so that your out-of-touch awkwardness isn’t so apparent.
(Note: Whitewater Police Chief Jim Coan — the Wile E. Coyote of Whitewater, Wisconsin — is already a permanent, Hall of Fame, Scariest Things member.)
5. Deference to Bureaucrats. Gosh darn it, the idea of ordinary citizens speaking their minds is only good as an offering to out-of-towners, to sell Whitewater as a homey, all-American place. When people move here, they better understand that you’re a visionary municipal leader with 236 years of municipal experience. All these citizens and independent-minded committees and — worst of all — bloggers should stop talking and fall into line, leave, or (hopefully) drop dead.
Don’t they know who you are? The idea of the blunt, plain-spoken, small-town voice is only good when (1) it supports you, (2) it supports you, and (3) it supports you. There’s only one justification — you should know that.
All the rest is madness, or a good public relations tack to make your administration look more tolerant than it is.
4. Mandates. If you’re busy running Whitewater, or one of its departments, you’re probably not known to more than several hundred people. Ordinary, normal people with jobs and families or schooling before them don’t have time to worry about you. They don’t think you’re special, chosen, visionary, or a gift to all the community.
But you are! These
worthless ingrate and vulgar dummies
uninformed citizens don’t appreciate you.
Worse still, there are far more of them than you. There may be only several hundred who know you by name, only a few hundred who say they like you, and only a few dozen who actually like you. Yet, there are fourteen-thousand in town. Your actual support in the community is more like a rounding error.
You must never let these thousands know how limited your support is. (Especially since even many of those who say they’re for you include ankle-biters, back-stabbers, disgruntled employees, weirdos, and screwballs, with categories often overlapping.)
Claim a mandate, before someone catches on! Say you represent all the community, the people, the city, etc. Problem solved.
3. Winning and Losing. Lots of people follow coverage of national politics and political campaigns. That coverage often focuses on winning and losing: big, important candidates win, and little, weak candidates lose. Sports coverage emphasizes the same truth — you’re either a hero or a goat.
Declare victory as often as you can! Sure, there are supposed to be timeless truths that don’t involve winning and losing, and some of these are supposed to be the values of small town America: honesty, fairness, integrity, accountability, true humility.
Small town? Well, maybe, but you’re bigger than that — you’re an important person in this small town.
Important people win. So, declare victory in every project, effort, accomplishment, and program. Onward and upward.
(There will be quiet moments when deeper reflection will set in. You may come to think that life takes a toll, exacts an attrition, like a grand Pete Carril, wearing you down, stifling your momentum, forcing you to think and act differently. Ignore those thoughts — speed on, drive on, your way.)
2. Tax Incremental Financing. Why produce a low-tax environment for all the city, when we can fashion tax districts that supposedly entice businesses through public works projects, at taxpayer expense, segregated from the general tax base? Be big, be bold, be a wheeler dealer with taxpayer money and public debt.
If it all goes bad, we can blame it on the recession, or wait until the Wisconsin legislature fishes us out of our own mess.
1. Outdoor Cafés. Whitewater considered offering outdoor cafés, in the spring and summer, that provide alcoholic drinks. Oh, what a risk that was for us — the sky might fall, and raucous mayhem might spread throughout all the city. Mass hysteria.
Let other cities face that pillage, sacrilege, and broken cartilage if they wish. Not for us — we needed restrictions, measurements, safeguards. It’s the last line of defense, the final fallback, before lest we might become Beirut.
We’re safe for another year, demon rum being the one demon that we’ve kept in check, with an accompanying food requirement to assure that each and every drop of alcohol is soaked up into pretzels and chips before corrupting the blood of any otherwise decent patrons.