The game’s on the line and the crowd noise is deafening. Snapper and holder do their part, as a lonely placekicker steps forward, into, and through the ball. Amid cheers and groans, defenders leap with joy and the kicker hangs his head. The football falls harmlessly left of target. The victors storm the field.
But, behind this scene, a referee crosses his arms above his head then points to the defensive side. Microphone on, he interrupts the celebration: “Time out, defense.”
To “ice” the kicker, the opposing coach called time out before the snap, though no one heard the whistle. Officially, the miss never happened. The kicker gets a do-over — a mulligan if you’re a golfer. The young man makes good on a second chance, splitting the uprights and carrying his team to a two-point win.
Newton County had its do over — not the gift of an opposing coach, but as a result of the Great Recession of 2008. Though brutal in its impact on households and businesses, the downturn was the only thing to save our county from itself.
A national growth leader for much of this century’s first decade, our population swelled 48% from 1990 to 2000 and another 61% by 2010. Twenty years of rampant residential expansion more than doubled the people living in Newton County, crowding schools, clogging roads, straining budgets, and stretching law enforcement resources. A house of cards, our local economy was poised for collapse when the bubble burst in the late 2000s.
And, collapse it did, with falling property values and rising unemployment outpacing the state and the nation. Yet, if not for that forced “time out” on unbridled development, I shudder to think what Newton County would look like today.
I’ve been both a supporter and critic of the 2050 Plan crafted by local government agencies to address Newton County’s growth challenges. My criticisms have less to do with particulars of the plan than with the poor track record local leaders have for putting plans into action or recognizing that planning is an ongoing process requiring informed engageament where ideas meet reality and rubber hits the road. But, my support is rooted in realizing so much is at stake, and any plan is better than none at all. While acknowledging objections to tactics and mechanics, I embrace the idea that a farmer south of Hub Junction, a resident of downtown Covington, and a suburban commuter living west of Oak Hill have a common interest in preserving natural resources and planning for sustained economic expansion.
I hoped inevitable conflicts would lead to dialog and broader understanding of the challenges we face, the objectives we share, and the tough choices we must make.
Sadly, the clock is ticking down on our time out. More than six years since the recession started, the Board of Commissioners, led by Commissioner John Douglas, has walked away completely from the plan the county, cities, and agencies have created. “We must stop spending time and money on it,” Douglas said, “and move on to other issues facing this county.”
Left unasked and unanswered is: “If not this, then what?” Apparently those pressing issues include squabbling over which county positions hold what power and making up the form of government as we go. It’s a sideshow we can ill afford.
We’ve squandered the chance to regroup, trotting onto the field with no plan at all. At this point, it’s hard to imagine we can even line up for the re-kick.
In a time out, coaches settle and focus players. The snapper, holder, and kicker discuss what went wrong and adjust to get a winning result. There’s pressure, but it’s a pressure they asked for. It’s a performance they’ve practiced to give. It’s a moment all theirs and a difference only they can make.
The “sidelines” of the Newton County Board of Commissioners are in chaos. Winning teams have a game plan executed by committed leaders who believe in one another and what they are doing. Unfortunately, politicians win elections – not necessarily leaders. And, while some commissioners get it, others are playing politics.
Leadership is never easy, and pressure takes its toll. But, it comes with the territory. Every placekicker shanks one with the game on the line. Even championship coaches have detractors campaigning relentlessly to run them out of town. But, when everything hangs in the balance, winners step up.
This is no game. It’s way more than that. It’s no time for hiding on the sidelines. Step up.
If not this, then what?
Maurice Carter is a Covington resident, a native Atlantan, an IT consultant by profession, and an active community volunteer at heart. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.