Here’s a link to my May 28, 2014 column for Bluffton Today.
Here’s the text
Time to try something different: Give our leaders a chance to lead
Do you trust your elected officials?
It’s a question I have been asking Bluffton friends a lot this week.
Actually, it’s a topic that has been building a lot of steam over the past few months, ever since the revelation of the Bluffton Public Development Corporation came to light.
The county and the town working together on a project that could be a game changer for the economic future of Bluffton? This sounds like a good thing, right?
There’s a lot of scary moving parts in the middle of this 34-acre, $4 million purchase of land at Buckwalter Place.
But at the end of the day, the people that we collectively elected to represent our best interests are telling us this is the best way to go. Shouldn’t that be enough?
I have had this same conversation with 10 friends now. And a pattern has developed at this point in the conversation.
First, the admission.
“I didn’t vote in the last three Town Council elections so I don’t have to trust them.”
“I didn’t like the candidates, so I just chose not to vote.”
“I had 15 things to do on Election Day, and voting didn’t even make the top 15.”
As hard as I try not to get up on my high horse, the truth is, you’re not entitled to complain about leadership when you give up the very basic right to vote.
But nonetheless, I bite my lip and talk about the benefits that the deal could bring to the area.
Next comes the deflection.
“Since when did you become a PR rep for the town?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the watchdog media?”
“You’re the one that gets paid to ask the questions.”
It’s a bizarre point we are at as a society. No one trusts anything about anyone. Our first instinct is negativity and finger pointing. The result is enough rhetoric to kill innovation.
The media and our elected officials have done plenty to earn the distrust and pessimism and yes, the apathy. I’m not real excited to even be called “media” these days, I get it.
And in this case, the BPDC hasn’t exactly given us a lot to work with. It would be much easier to accept what they’re saying at face value if we knew the business they’re negotiating with to sell 8 to 10 of those acres of land that is supposedly going to lead to a lot of positive change for the area.
But that isn’t how high-powered business negotiations work. And maybe that’s the hard part for us to accept here. These are big-time negotiations that could have long-lasting implications for all of us. So we all think we deserve to know everything at all steps of the process.
Sorry, these are the people that earned a seat at the table. They have stepped up when so many of us didn’t and are playing an active part in shaping the future of the town and the region.
As for me asking questions, here’s the funny thing. I am asking a lot of questions and I’m liking the answers I’m hearing.
I’m asking as a citizen of the town, someone who has been here a while and who plans on being here to see the results of the work this group is doing.
Here, I see three different entities coming together in an effort to take control of the next phase of development instead of having it dictated to them by outsiders who write the biggest checks.
It’s unprecedented in this era of government and politics to see this, and for the town, county and now the school board to be financial bedfellows, it’s a very unique arrangement to start with.
They have brought in Doug Tardio, the COO of the biggest Beaufort County employment success story in generations, to help lead the BDPC. Add in Santee Cooper, who would be loaning some of the money, and there’s a lot of corporate involvement that scares us.
But again, in this case, I’m inclined to believe that it should encourage us rather than throw up red flags.
By buying the land, the group can pick and choose how that land gets developed, make sure that it fits the makeup of the town and who gets to be involved in the development.
BPDC chairman Roberts Vaux told BT last week that the proposed company they are negotiating fits all those criteria, including a developer with local roots.
Part of the fear here is that we’re giving this collective group a lot of leeway that could lead to a lot of corruption — with councilmen and board members lining their pockets with payoffs.
And that could happen, for sure. That’s why we all need to keep asking questions and stay active as this process plays out.
But on the surface, I’m intrigued and encouraged by the initial details I’m hearing. It feels like the folks we elected to watch out for our best interests are attempting to do just that.
I’ve seen a lot of isolated decision making lead to economic failures in these parts that can’t all be blamed on the recession.
At least in this instance, we have a lot of information sharing and informed decision making going on among different government agencies.
If that makes me a guy who is drinking the Kool-Aid, so be it. Maybe I’m a naïve idealist. I’m just so tired of politics and negativity grinding real change to a halt. It’s foreign yet refreshing to see a collective of politicians and proven business leaders making decisions and being accountable for the greater good.
That’s something worth getting excited about, dare I say optimistic about.
I don’t need to file a Freedom of Information Act request to know that. I’m going to try giving leaders a bit of freedom to lead, all the while getting informed before I feel entitled to criticize.
For once, maybe we can try to trust our officials and hold them accountable at the same time.
Tim Wood is a writer living in Bluffton. Email him with comments or story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.