The city commission campaign season is upon us and, kind of like the ridiculous weather we’ve been having, things are getting unseasonably hot around here.
When I ran for a commission seat two years ago, the only thing I appreciated about the crazy way that we elect those positions was that we could honestly say that we weren’t running against each other as much as we were running for the opportunity to have a seat at the decision-making table. There are decidedly winners and losers, but the objective is not as much about defeating your opponents as it is about showing your constituents what you would bring to the proverbial table.
This less “competitive” climate created an opportunity for us to avoid spending energy on slamming each other and instead focus on our ideals and our ideas for achieving them. We were able to participate in more productive debate and to better inform our audience on what we thought a prosperous future for Rome could look like.
I have to admit that I have become a bit disillusioned with our leadership over the two years since I ran. The largely negative focus on what I mostly find to be minor issues has been disappointing and is far from solving the big picture topics we should be addressing in order for our community to thrive. That lack of attention is showing in numerous areas of our community, no doubt, but I am dismayed when I see the issues painted in broad-sweeping and dismal rhetoric intended to incite a passionate need for salvation. “Vote for me because our town is failing and I’m the person to fix it” is not a good message. Especially not when you aren’t displaying your superpowers in remedies and solutions.
Wouldn’t it be great to hear a visionary focus on how to help our already great community meet its greatest potential? We have our challenges, no doubt. With nearly half of our community living at or near the poverty level, there are definitely areas critically in need of improvement. But, don’t you think that many communities our size and larger are dealing with depressed neighborhoods, homelessness and development needs?
This week I noticed a couple of things that left me dumbstruck over how our leadership seems to view our community. One was a commission candidate likening neglected areas of Rome to a third-world country, and the other was the county Facebook page posting a video of the demolition of a blighted home with a discussion of continuing concerns with blighted properties in Rome and Floyd County.
We decidedly have some depressed areas in our community, but a third-world country we are not, even in the worst places. It would be nice if we could talk about our problems in realistic and logical terms rather than in overly dramatic hyperbole.
This dramatic approach is how we addressed the smoking, parking, crosswalks and homelessness in downtown, which lead to much larger conversations than we really needed to have over minor topics. Meanwhile, these neglected neighborhoods have been even more neglected and now we are being told that they are at critical stages that are difficult to solve.
This point is further driven home by a video and depiction of blight as a plague on our area. I hope that no one thinking of moving to our town visited the county Facebook page this week, because it certainly does not show a very enticing image. We talk of the need to attract business to our area in order to create more jobs and generate more money with which to improve our problems, but why would an industry want to move here when they are potentially hearing and seeing dire concerns? We actually have a tremendous number of jobs available here that are going unfilled, and yet the only solution we can come up with for our devastation is to bring in more jobs that need to be filled? I think we are missing a sea of solutions for gazing at the mirage.
As you read this, well over a thousand visitors are finishing up an action-packed weekend in a town that they love, Rome, Ga. They were here for the Going Caching event, a geocaching mega-event that is the third largest of its kind in the country. The founders of geocaching were here because the event makes such an impact on their industry, and the guests have gathered here from 39 states and 5 countries. I happen to be friends with the folks who head up this event, Andi Beyer and Jim Williamson. They have tried to hold the event in other parts of Georgia over the years, but their audience overwhelmingly asked that they keep it in Rome because they enjoy our town so much.
The week before we had a similar number of happy visitors with their Schnauzers, and in about a month the Rome International Film Festival will draw filmmakers from around the world to our little town. Over the years that I have been involved with the film festival we have consistently heard from our guests that it is the best time they have ever enjoyed at a festival, mainly because of the hospitality they experience from the RIFF team and our town.
Erma Bombeck twisted the popular greener grass phrase to say, “The grass is always greener over the septic tank.” I feel like we are feeding our communal grass with a little septic rhetoric these days, but let’s look at how we can get to tending it with good old-fashioned love and hope and attention. Let’s believe in our town like our visitors do, and stop poo-pooing its potential.