Why “jobs, jobs, jobs” isn’t good enough for the public good and the general welfare –John S. Quarterman

Sure, everyone wants jobs for the people right now and jobs so the children don’t have to go somewhere else to find one. But what good is that if those jobs suck up all the water those children need to drink?

This is the problem:

“What I believe the three most important things are, not only for our community, and our state, and our country, but for our country, thats jobs number 1, jobs number 2, and jobs.”

Brad Lofton, Executive Director, Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority (VLCIA),
speaking at the Lake Park Chamber of Commerce annual dinner,
Lake Park, Lowndes County, Georgia, 28 January 2011.
Video by Gretchen Quarterman for LAKE, the Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange.

I shook Brad Lofton’s hand after that speech and told him I liked it, because I did: in general it was a positive speech about real accomplishments. I’ve also pointed out I had a few nits with that speech. This one is more than a nit. This one is basic philosophy and policy.

Now one would expect an executive director of an industrial authority to be all about jobs. And that would be OK, if the industrial authority listened to other people or organizations who had larger concerns for our community, our state, and our country. But that isn’t what’s happening.

The speaker immediately before Brad Lofton at the same event, Ben Copeland, asked “How much growth do we want?” Copeland even specifically remarked on a project Brad Lofton is famous for promoting:

“One of the things that keeps some of these rivers going is the treated effluent that goes into them.

Now Brad Lofton wants to use some of that up in a biomass plant. We have a problem there.”

Lofton took no notice of Copeland’s criticism except to take personal offense in the childish remark,
Ben Copeland beat me slap silly.
Just because we are all accustomed to that kind of reaction from Brad Lofton doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate response from someone in his position.

Fortunately, Lofton can’t dismiss Copeland as “folks come into the community”, like VLCIA staff tried for Dr. William Sammons. Nor was Lofton foolish enough to try to ridicule Copeland as some opposition that has “crept up”, like he tried for the NAACP. Ben Copeland has a scholarship named for him at Wiregrass Technical College, where he used to be chairman. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong here, but is this not the same Ben Copeland who has a Boy Scout Conference Center named after him? Copeland is on the state water council, and, in addition to education, that’s what he talked about in his speech.

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….
Questions that Brad Lofton and VLCIA repeatedly ignore. And Lofton also ignored them when Ben Copeland asked them.

Lofton even ignored the man who introduced him, Crawford Powell, former chairman of the Lake Park Chamber of Commerce and present County Commissioner, who in his thanks to Sheriff Carter, remarked that greatness is:

“to be able to lift the next generation higher”
It’s not lifting the next generation higher to suck up all their resources before they get a chance to use them.

This isn’t just about one project. This is about VLCIA ignoring suggestions on other topics. This is not just about Brad Lofton. This is about the entire VLCIA board, as stated by their chairman, trusting government agencies who are running down checklists while repeatedly ignoring massive evidence brought by numerous other parties.

This isn’t good enough:

I’m not prepared to answer questions.
If VLCIA board and staff aren’t prepared to answer questions brought by medical professionals or by eminent local pillars of the community such as Ben Copeland, then they need to hire somebody who can.

More generally, it’s not good enough to say,

This business has come here and asked us,
“Can we come here if we comply by the law.”
We said, “Comply with the law, and yes we want you here.”
VLCIA needs to take into account resource use, specifically water, but also air, forests, 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,
Roy Copeland
Roy Copeland
Tom Call
Tom Call
Mary B. Gooding
Mary Gooding
Norman Bennett
Norman Bennett
Jerry Jennett
Jerry Jennett,
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.

As Dr. William Fuller pointed out to the Lowndes County Commission, 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 the job and, as Crawford Powell said, get on with

…planning in this generation to be able to lift the next generation higher than you’ve seen, higher than you can go, so they can see further and better than you do.
Accepting businesses that come in just because they pass government agency checklists is not planning. That is abdicating VLCIA’s responsibility to the next generation.

VLCIA needs to step up to the job they’re actually in. 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.

It’s a hard job they’re in. 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.