Fiddling while Anderson burns

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Public demand for merger would end city-county feud

By Ben Carlson

It has been said that Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Nearly 2,000 years later in a small central Kentucky county named Anderson, our Neros in city and county government spend more time rosining up their bows to do a little fiddling of their own instead of putting out the fires and getting down to business.
Just take a good look around. Street after street is pockmarked with foreclosed homes. Main Street, once Lawrenceburg’s main attraction, now resembles a ramshackle mining town about a decade after the gold ran out. Industrial growth — aside from Wild Turkey — is something that happens somewhere else.
So what are those we elect doing about these issues? Sadly, the answer is it doesn’t matter and won’t until city and county government first learn to get along.
We could fill a page with each side’s perceived grievances. If it’s not about water bills in the county park, it’s about reserved parking at the courthouse or litter abatement funds.
Yes, these mildly entertaining micro-bursts of hometown political hi-jinx create saucy gossip in the coffee shops but do absolutely nothing but keep us mired in the last century while communities around us prosper and advance.
Lost amid the foolishness are the efforts by some to foster growth. For instance, the city/county economic development authority floated a trial balloon earlier this year to gauge the reaction of using the million-plus dollars it has to create an industrial park.
That, dear reader, is a remarkable change in attitude and a clear indication that the old-school thinking that dominated that agency for years is at long last on its way out.
The catch to that offer is that the city council and fiscal court would need to annually pony up about $20,000 each to fund the agency’s daily operations.
If you haven’t heard about that plan don’t expect to again because it isn’t likely to happen. Doing so would require cooperation, planning and at least one side (the city) to get over the fact that such a park most likely won’t be located where it can wet its beak in the tax revenue it generates.
That “what’s in it for us” attitude is the heart of what’s wrong, and only a remarkable change in the public’s response to it will ever make it go away.
One option to accomplish that would be turning out this fall and electing a city council that cares first about the welfare of Anderson County as a whole, not how to settle juvenile scores over parking spaces and other foolishness.
If that doesn’t work, two years from now voters can do the same thing with the fiscal court.
Being that elections here, like everywhere, are largely decided by popularity vs. competence, that’s unlikely to happen.
Here’s an option that can happen, but only if enough people demand it.
Leading up to the time of his death, attorney Walter Patrick used the final year of his public life to lobby for the creation of a committee to study a merger of city and county government.
During a joint meeting in front of a large crowd of people demanding they take action, each side put on a good show and voted to begin that process, but left just enough wiggle room to back out.
Privately, they growled, raised their hackles and invented enough reasons to let it die.
It’s time, people, to growl back, take away Nero’s fiddle and send a message that the days of our elected leaders acting like recalcitrant children fighting over the last cookie in the jar come to an end.
It’s time for them to settle their differences, check their egos at the door and do what Mr. Patrick encouraged until his dying day — merge.