I am an Oxford City Councilman, but the views expressed in this column are my personal views. They are not the official or unofficial views or opinions of the city of Oxford; nor, to my knowledge, are they the views or opinions of any other council member. To reiterate: these are my views and opinions.
There have been a number of charrettes and other meetings of stakeholders regarding the future of our towns and county. Ultimately, what topped the list was building a sense of community. I do not recall anyone at any of the meetings saying what was needed was a larger airport. Airports do not build a sense of community. That they destroy them is evident across the country. But now the city of Covington has requested an authority to run the airport. What this means is that when John Douglas has the senate approve the authority, it will not be responsible to anyone, not even those who created it. So, in the future, one can expect the authority to act in the best interest of the airport. That will be their charge. Not the best interest of anyone or anything else.
The FFA was open to the idea of moving the airport to the Stanton Springs area. This would have allowed the planes to take off and land in the I-20 corridor. Stanton Springs could use the help as all the money spent to date appears to be lying fallow. The Chamber of Commerce supports the airport and its place as a centerpiece of economic development. The chamber is a quasi-governmental agency supported by the taxpayers for businesses and to promote businesses which, by the way, are generally the folks who can afford to use an airport. So in a time of severe recession, the move is to create an autonomous authority that will act in the best interest of the special interest (the airport) without regard for taxpayers or communities and with the continued affect of the many paying for the benefit of the few. Local general aviation airports, as economic drivers, are an old paradigm that no longer holds up, and its economic effect will diminish over time, but by then, the damage will be done.
Moving on, the county was also in these charrettes and another item high on the list was trails. Now along comes $1 million dollars to spend on a rail system that became available in a timely manner, but the county decides it cannot move on this at this time, even though this is what the participating citizens said they wanted and rails to trails is a national movement. Studies show that trails reduce crime and raise property values. Strong recreational facilities will be near the center of future economic development. But do we act on that now that we have the opportunity? No.
Next in these charrettes were plans for developmental nodes or zones (I cannot remember the exact term). These were intended to create neighborhoods as walkable communities: homes, shops, schools etc. Apparently the school board's plan does not square with the charrette plan. They are moving schools out of communities, but are they putting them near the developmental nodes? No. Schools are being located very near the airport which does not promote walk-ability. I am unsure how this will promote a sense of community.
Finally, a conference of stakeholders was held three to four years ago to come up with plans to enhance U.S. Highway 278, and some great ideas came out of that which would make the strip more user-friendly. Apparently, no one told the DOT so now 278 is going to look like 138 and every other bleak strip in the country.
What the stakeholders were trying to tell the politicians and leaders was they saw a different future for the cities and the county. They saw a future where people and industry came because the county had a sense of community with extended walking areas, abundant green space, extensive recreational opportunities, good schools that were small and local and had good student-to-teacher ratios, with a library system that had a strong Web presence. In other words, they are and will be looking for an enhanced quality of life. They would come because Newton County lives and breathes a new paradigm and not the same old paradigm of airports and strip malls, low quality developments with no sense of community, limited recreational facilities and long bus trips to mega-schools.
About 10 to 15 years ago politicians and leaders caught on to the fact that people wanted to be heard. The public in general want to be heard regarding their future. They are weary of being told that this or that would be great and we really do want it too but we just can't do it now. Then they see things being done that could actually be put off without hurting anyone. People are tired of looking to the past for reruns. They are weary of watching their politicians and leaders doing the same old things and telling them this time the results will be different.
Now we have the Leadership Collaborative. This may be our last, our very last hope of getting it right. I hope and pray the Leadership Collaborative will take a stand on these issues as well as others and the individual members will return to their respective governing bodies and be a powerful, outspoken advocate for implementing the plans so many worked so hard to create. It will be a shame if these plans are put on the shelf to collect dust as so often happens. If they are left to collect dust, when anyone ask why people have lost faith in government we will only have to look in the mirror for the answer.
Jim Windham is an Oxford city councilman.