Let others take the wheel

Augusta commissioners should lead the developing to developers

There’s a difference between leading and directing.

 

Elected officials need to lead our communities. They don’t need to direct them.

That subtle but profound difference comes to mind as the Augusta Commission revives a failed scheme from a decade ago to build a drag strip in south Richmond County.

Never mind the merits of the idea — and the obvious questions about noise and other byproducts of a drag strip. We’ll leave that to the experts.

But so should our elected officials. Why should the commission be intent on directing development rather than merely setting the stage for it?

This thing works best, at least in a free country, if the government sees itself as a servant leader — creating an environment where the private sector can flourish and create its own opportunities.

That means allowing both success and failure.

This is the beauty of the free market. If something fills a need, and can be built and executed in a financially sustainable manner, then great.

If not, someone is out of his or her own money.

In contrast, government is playing the market with our money when it seeks to play developer.

There are, no doubt, some ventures which local governments may be uniquely suited to participate in — such things as stadiums, performing arts centers and other facilities of broad public use and interest.

A drag strip is just not one of them. Its appeal is specialized, and its construction is something a private entity can accomplish without the use of county coffers.

We appreciate the intrepidness of Commissioner Ben Hasan in raising the subject anew. But the last time the commission dipped its toes in these waters, in 2006, it ended in scandal: Commissioner Marion Williams’ son-in-law bought a parcel of land across from the proposed site before the site was ever formally announced. He also formed a company called “Drag Snacks.”

Moreover, we question whether elected officials should take on the role of venture capitalist.

“We’ve got a lot of things coming in and we need something that has the potential to generate income,” Hasan says.

We would respectfully suggest that elected officials can get into trouble — and get taxpayers into uncharted waters — when they start worrying about making money, as opposed to spending what we send them wisely.

Commissioner Hasan is certainly right when he says “we’ve got a lot of things coming in.” The area is about to be inundated by cyber professionals as Augusta becomes a hub for the mushrooming industry.

We’d encourage commissioners to create the best possible climate for that organic development — and sit back and let the tax digest take care of itself.

It will.

We couldn’t agree more with letter writer Frank L. Holroyd Jr. (“How development developed,” May 16) when he writes that “all future plans for the expansion and revitalization of Augusta (should) be left in the hands of professionals, and not politicians.”

If there’s money in a drag strip, let the private sector pursue it. If it works, the public sector will benefit, without having assumed the considerable risk.

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