A wise friend reminded me recently of an old saying: "Dogs don’t bark at parked cars." It was my friend’s way of telling me that criticism, while never pleasant, is a sign you are doing something and trying to get things done. No action pleases everyone. So, the only way to never be criticized is to never do anything. Leave the car parked, if you don’t want to hear the barking.
The trouble is we’ve had the car parked for too long now. The car was parked while an alarming 25 percent of our residents slipped into poverty. We left the car parked while Covington’s electric utility rates became the highest in the State of Georgia. We left the car parked as several major retailers left town, substandard housing spread through our city, and we lost control of the residential sprawl that generated more traffic and encroached on our efforts to manage and balance growth.
Let me be perfectly clear… I am not blaming any individual or group for any of the above. These are complex problems that require bold, relentless action. No one person can solve them. And, after more than a year in office, I know all too well how difficult it is to tackle complex problems, within and across governmental boundaries, in a political context. When you can’t put your feet on the floor in the morning without a dog barking somewhere, it takes considerable conviction to still hit the floor running day after day after day.
But, when I ran for mayor, I promised the people of Covington I would do everything in my power to balance our growth, promote economic development and address poverty in our community. I knew then, nothing I did would be popular with everyone. But, I did not seek office to be popular, and I sure didn’t run for prestige or money. I wanted to be mayor because I love this community, and I felt we were at risk of falling behind in tackling these tough issues. You may not agree with all of my actions; you may think I’m wrong sometimes. And, you are surely right, since no one is immune from mistakes. But, I promise you everything I have done and will do as mayor is 100 percent based on what I sincerely believe is best for Covington and its people.
Many city ordinances, city policies, a City Hall office and salaries that have not been revisited or updated in decades are touchy subjects. Sometimes they divide us and provoke anger. But, they are also emblematic of a human tendency to let things slide and do as we have always done. I do not believe I was elected to continue down that path.
I had one more goal and pledge I shared with you when I ran for mayor, which was to bring inclusion and access to our city government. I wanted every citizen to always know what was going on, with no hidden agendas, and I wanted you to have the opportunity at every turn to tell me and the council what you think. To that end, we altered our council meeting agenda to put public comments up front, before all of the more mundane topics of a typical city business. In every meeting, the Council and I give two opportunities, one at the beginning and one at the end, for open public comment on any topic. I’ve held two town hall meetings so far, with the express goal of letting citizens address the mayor, the Council and every city department head with any topic or question on your mind.
As we enter a new year, please take advantage of your opportunities to be a part of the process for shaping our city’s future. Making anonymous comments in the newspaper may make you feel good. Barking at moving cars makes a dog feel good too. But, it doesn’t accomplish anything. And, the challenges we face are too big and too important to waste our precious time and energy chasing and barking at cars.
Let’s all put our energy into the issues that matter: balancing our growth, promoting economic development and addressing poverty. Next month, I will begin to recap with you where we stand and where we are going on these critical initiatives. Meanwhile, though, the car is running. Let’s jump in and go.
Kim Carter is mayor of Covington. Her column appears once a month.