Everyone wants jobs for those who need them and jobs for young people so they don’t have to go somewhere else to find one. But what good is that if those jobs suck up all the water those people need to drink?
At the Lake Park Chamber of Commerce annual dinner Brad Lofton gave a speech which I liked, and I told him so afterwards, because it was mostly about real industry with real jobs that that the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority (VLCIA) has brought into the area.
But it had a problem:
“What I believe the three most important things are, … for our community, and our state, and our country, … that’s jobs number 1, jobs number 2, and jobs.”An executive director of an industrial authority should be all about jobs, as long as the industrial authority listens to other people or organizations who have larger concerns for our community, our state, and our country. But that isn’t what’s happening.
Speaking immediately before Lofton, Ben Copeland, former chairman of the board of Wiregrass Technical College asked:“How much growth do we want?”Copeland is on the regional state water board, and he also asked:“Do we want to be Jacksonville? Do we want to be Tallahassee? Do we want to be a large metropolitan region? … Water is going to be very important as we expand our industrial base. Because we’re going to have folks who like to start up jobs here because of the water we have. How much of that water can be used to sustain jobs. Those are the questions…. People need to be informed; need to be aware; that we have to use resources very very carefully; at the same time in a way that provides jobs to our citizens for prosperity.”Lofton said nothing about those questions, but this is not about Brad Lofton. The VLCIA board does not address those questions. Instead, as they have stated in their meetings, they trust trust government agencies to run down checklists. They systematically ignore evidence brought to them by outside parties.
VLCIA needs to take into account resource use, specifically water, but also air, forests, roads, and other resources, in ways that are verifiable by independent third parties. VLCIA needs to take into account existing communities. Individually, VLCIA board members may be able to say,“I am not a scientist; I am a business man.”But as members of the VLCIA, and collectively as the VLCIA board, they are making decisions that affect not just their own individual businesses. Decisions that affect not just the individual businesses they are evaluating. They are making decisions that affect the whole community. In their role as the VLCIA board, they are not just business people. They are policy makers for the whole community. Policy makers who need to be taking into account the health, safety, and livability of the community.
VLCIA’s own charter says:“This act, being for the purpose of developing and promoting the public good and the welfare of the County of Lowndes and the City of Valdosta and their inhabitants, shall be liberally construed to effect the purposes hereof.”Not just promoting the bottom line of the companies coming here; not just trusting government agencies to check boxes on checklists; not just bragging about numbers of jobs brought into the community. To develop and promote the public good and the welfare of the community. To do that job, they need to listen to the whole community, and take into account what people not in their club say.
VLCIA needs to step up to its responsibility to the next generation. It’s not good enough to say,“You either trust them or you don’t. I happen to trust them.”Trust isn’t enough. VLCIA needs to verify that a business is appropriate for the public good and the general welfare. If they’re not willing to do that in-house, they need to start listening to the numerous people not on their staff or board who are doing it for them.
The Valdosta City Council and the Lowndes County Commission need to appoint people to the VLCIA board who will listen, and then watch them to be sure they do.
VLCIA has a hard job. And they’re not used to all this citizen involvement. But we who are interested, all of us, are not their enemies: we are their allies as part of the same community, state, and country.
John S. Quarterman is a resident of Lowndes County.