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Posted: June 11, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Don't let the people perish

"Where there is no vision, the people perish." Thus says Proverbs. And I'm feeling it sometimes these days as an observer of local politics.

Roy Varner just died, beloved as a man and revered as Newton County Commission chair for 16 years. A friend said of him: "It seems like most politicians today, their agenda is a personal agenda, and what they can get out of it for themselves. Roy was a person trying to do good for his community. He didn't care who got credit so long as it got done." Son Aaron quoted him: "He said, ‘Positive attitude is what gets things done. Negative attitude never did build anything.' And: ‘If it's the right thing to do, there will be enough credit to go around.' Also: ‘A lot of things we do today won't benefit us now, but they will years later.'"

Mr. Roy had a vision, among many others, of a secure water source for this community, and it lead to the construction of what would be called Lake Varner - in his honor. It was not without controversy when he outlined the goal, but his commitment to consensus building made it a reality. Granddaughter Tuesday Rawls said, "For him it was about being part of something greater than he was."

Right now I'm wandering in the wilderness, looking for the vision that's going to carry us forward toward a collectively prosperous and healthy future in this county. I believe there can be this kind of future despite the ongoing malaise and generally pessimistic view of our current times. We will have to reconstruct our economy to produce a different source of jobs, but we've done it before and can do it again. What we lack appears to be elected officials who will clearly articulate a vision with a call to action that will rally even the most jaded among us.

The ills that befell this county were from a steady and over reliance on the construction industry and money for homebuyers that was too easy to get, money that would never be repaid because there was no income to begin with to support the payments. And then the jobs just went away. A lot of greed on many levels brought this county and this country to their knees.

These days, I'm looking for someone to articulate a plan, even a dream of what we could be that we are not now. Do we all agree that we want an attractive and secure place to live, work and rear families? It is hard to disagree that we need entertainment and recreational venues, protection and creation of green space that helps to preserve our historical rural character, better schools, more retail and restaurant options, an economy that relies less on construction and more on job sectors the future will need, including local food production. We, the people, need a vision most particularly in times like these. Otherwise, we will "perish," not in a literal sense, but in soul-sapping slow decline and death to hope. All I usually hear is silence from many of our elected officials when it comes to the "vision thing."

A roadmap does exist created by the hard work of the Leadership Collaborative made up of elected officials and government department heads. Under the auspices of The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, they've produced something called a 2050 Build Out Plan to show us what we can be by the year 2050. It's put Newton County on the map. Other cities, town and states come to learn about the process. We have a roadmap, but do we have a vision and commitment from our elected officials that will get us there? Where is the leadership?

What I see too often these days at bi-monthly government meetings are many votes and decisions being made for the most personal, petty and partisan reasons. Dogma rules. "Just say no" becomes political philosophy. Personality conflicts drive votes away from progressive options or peaceful resolutions of issues. Too often actions debated play to peoples' fear and not a shared sense of community and hope. It is fear that will probably keep our commissioners from voting sensibly for the rollback millage rate that would keep our courts and law enforcement functioning adequately. And it doesn't take 20-20 eyesight to see those officeholders who are using their positions to build a résumé for running against someone else sitting at the same curved dais.

Come on, that's not what we elected you for. We want you to be looking after us and our community, not your political career.

My rant doesn't apply to all of our policymakers, by any means, but it does apply to some - those who make the most noise. Politics at the national and state level make me just as petulant.

I suppose I shouldn't expect more than from the existing "system" than I'm getting. But I do want more, and I want it right here where we pass those we we've elected on the sidewalks or in the grocery aisles or at church. You know who you are. Your constituents want vision, not personality politics.

Otherwise, the people will perish.

Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington. Her column appears on Fridays.

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