Monday, October 04, 2010

Amusing Irony Behind Street Bond Opposition

I read with amusement the logic in a recent op-ed in The Durham News by the head of Young Republicans for the four-county Durham metro area asking readers to send a message to Durham officials by “saying no” to street bonds while I might add, taking a cheap shot at Mayor Bill Bell.

Don’t get me wrong, while I don’t know the author or agree with him on many things, it certainly isn’t his free speech or civic engagement that amuses me. I applaud that. First a clarification or two before I get to what amused me.Print

I’m not just sticking up for Bill Bell. While he’s a friend and one of the first people to greet me when I moved here in the 1980s, he would be the first to see the irony of partisanship bleeding through the op-ed. I disagreed when he did something similar to defeat another friend, incumbent Nick Tennyson, at the start of this decade.

For those who don’t know, Durham at the city level is supposed to be non-partisan when it comes to political parties. It runs under a “city-manager” form of government, one of those pesky little progressive reforms in the early part of the last century. The city council is the board of directors and the mayor is chair of the board when everyone stays clear on the roles.

The street bond is being championed by the city manager, Tom Bonfield, the professional retained to keep this city one of the most highly rated in the nation. I know, trust and respect him. He and I agree with the author that bonds typically shouldn’t be used for street maintenance.

However, I admit to being easily amused by irony and this “send the message NO” is the very thinking that got us into this mess with streets. Officials in the 1990s were intimidated by people demonizing taxes so while juggling a full plate of priorities they deferred street maintenance. Big mistake in my opinion but I wasn’t in their shoes!

And repeating the mistake by saying “no” now to a bond that finally catches us up on 200 of our 660 miles of the paved roads and puts Durham on footing to pay for future street paving out of operating funds is just as bone headed as the “no” in the 1990s.

“No” is never an answer to anything. The only message it sends is the one we send when we “shoot ourselves in the foot” or to use another idiom, “cut off our nose to spite our face.” Retarding the remaining 200 miles of catch up for political purposes will just exacerbate the problem.

We all want good streets and roads…who in their right mind wants to say “no” to streets just to end up paying much more in vehicle repair and in lost productivity due to traffic slow-downs?

To me, the issue of why the past street bonds are still not fully expended is just people not understanding the process. While the city manager is obviously greatly accelerating that process, it seems like just good business to get the next one underway while the remnants of previous bonds are being deployed.

I also disagree with the op-ed’s author when he tried to play the Bull City Connector against street maintenance. One of the arguments for the Connector is to move people efficiently between several employment, residential, educational, medical and entertainment centers while reducing street congestion and the need for parking.

To me the decision is easy to vote “yes” on street bonds in November.

Oh, and for our friends in nearby communities who look down their noses at Durham, most of the metros in the nation have the same problem. Durham is just doing something about it!

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