Boredom helps create poor government decisions
“Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.”
— Otto von Bismarck
I’m fairly certain it was Bismarck’s famous quote about the process of making governmental decisions that Mayor Stephen DiDonato was referring to when he remarked “You’re watching the sausage being made” during the August 29 council meeting.
It may be true that governing can be an ugly process.
It gets even uglier when the elected and appointed officials who lead government become bored with the often-tedious day-to-day processes involved with running a municipality or school district.
These are mundane items like trash collection, keeping the streetlights lit, maintaining the facilities, patching or repaving roads, keeping the sewer and water utilities running well and in a self-liquidating manner and mowing the grass in the park areas. There are thousands of other items like these, none of them particularly exciting or interesting, but all of them important aspects of keeping a municipality and a school district running well.
When government is engaged with those day-to-day items, the town runs well, and government recedes into the background of the taxpaying public’s lives.
If the leaders become bored, government rushes to the forefront of people’s lives. That’s when we see items that are not of the day-to-day variety take over the spotlight: the town trying to purchase a portion of a golf course; special meetings with little notice to the public about redevelopment zones, inclusionary development zones and what will eventually be hundreds of housing units; a television studio on the third floor of town hall; a hideous solar array in front of Hammonton High School; the shifting of political allegiances; and an attempt to have Hammonton have the first stormwater utility—and its attendant tax—in the state.
All of these ideas, in their way, are entrepreneurial in nature. They are about starting big, new things, often with either taxpayer money or government authority, an authority that would not exist without taxpayer funding. Entrepreneurial spirit is a good thing, in the private sector. In the public sector, what we need is more stewardship than entrepreneurship.
Stewardship would direct the town’s attention to those day-to-day items, along with finding solutions to longstanding problems. Again, stewardship is far more boring than the excitement of entrepreneurship, but it involves far less risk. It has the added bonus of being quieter, far more effective and less dangerous to local taxpayers.
If local leaders would use stewardship, they would set aside pet projects that drain local tax dollars and redirect those funds toward working on redeveloping and developing commercial tax ratables that don’t (unlike apartments and townhouses) add large numbers of children to the schools, which creates a taxpayer burden. Redevelopment zones can be useful if used on empty commercial ratables like the former Whitehall factory on Grand Street, the empty One White Horse Center at the intersection of the White Horse Pike (Route 30) and Route 206, the former Kessler Factory (Hammonton Park Clothes) at the corner of Tilton and Pleasant Streets and, potentially, the Wells Fargo bank building at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and the Ronald Reagan Drive section of Central Avenue.
Again, developing commercial ratables like these into revenue generators isn’t as exciting as the latest new thrilling government policy (which, by the way, to most people is still pretty boring).
Neither is fostering commercial growth with larger commercial ratables uptown, downtown, in Hammonton’s Little Italy, in the Hammonton Business Park or at the Hammonton Municipal Airport. It’s a very slow, steady process that takes years to cultivate.
It’s not for people with short attention spans looking for the next “get rich quick” scheme for themselves or the town.
What would be nice is if the bored people running the town dropped all this nonsense for a little while and concentrated on what the people actually wanted instead of what they want.
They may find that they will pick up a lot of support from the taxpayers, many of whom are also voters.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.