Unfortunately, many local issues were not debated or discussed in any meaningful way because the County Commissioners were essentially elected in last spring’s primary. We again missed an opportunity where the 70% voter turnout could have been engaged on important local issues.
If you have paid the slightest attention to County issues, the one phrase you’ve heard over and over again is “economic development”, as in “the number one priority for Orange County is economic development”. Sounds good, but what does it mean?
We have some clues from a couple of recent County actions under the tenure of County Manager Frank Clifton. The County used to have a citizen board called the Economic Development Commission. Over time this Board came to be viewed as a hindrance to “real” economic development by Chamber of Commerce leaders, county staff, and eventually even the Commissioners themselves.
This Board was quietly dissolved. After many months, and in an unusual process with no publicity or advance notice, a new Economic Development Advisory Board was hand-picked by County staff led by Clifton in cahoots with the local Chambers of Commerce. From what little information is available on its membership, this Board seems stacked with conservative proponents of the business status quo that contends there are no limits to growth and doesn’t reflect the growing awareness of a large number of economists that expectations of unending growth are a dangerous pipe-dream.
Another recent troubling development occurred when the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) rushed through a vote to commercially rezone the Eno Economic Development District before the concerns and questions of many residents were adequately addressed. This is evidence of the urgency that all local governments feel to generate more tax revenue in these tougher times. But it is also evidence that our values are being eroded to the point where we would sacrifice one community for the goal of “economic development.”
It is very important that citizens participate in the discussions around the economic future of our County. The current County management prefers that participation from citizens be minimal so they can accelerate their plans. The BOCC of the last few years has been compliant with Manager Clifton’s program.
The BOCC will have three new members – Penny Rich, Mark Dorosin, and Renee Price — who will replace less progressive representatives. This bodes well for turning our efforts toward a more durable, locally based economy that values health, happiness, safety, and self-reliance as at least as important as simply generating more sales tax revenue. We need to monitor and participate in County issues at a higher level than in the past. Very important courses are being charted right now and, if we are not careful, our unique advantages may be supplanted by yesterday’s run-of-the-mill economic ideas.