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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Consolidation and the Dead Horse*

Picture from the Johnstown Convention and Visitors Bureau

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 5/25/2007
as "Wanted: True leaders not afraid of consolidation"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

At times we are compelled by mysterious forces unknown to us to engage in a seemingly futile exercise colloquially referred to as “beating a dead horse.” With all respect and apologies to the equine enthusiasts among us, here we go.

Consolidation. I can hear those groans already. I know these arguments have been put forward again and again, always seeming to find them shattered on the rocks of politics. I can’t help but notice that those who campaign the hardest against the idea are the ones who stand to lose their personal slice of the political pie. But, I digress…

I could talk about how consolidation would level the tax burden on homeowners throughout the area.

I could talk how the patchwork of municipalities and governments, laws and regulations do more to drive businesses away.

I could talk about how that lack of opportunity is hemorrhaging the valley’s population.

I could point out that Balkanization (the subdivision of a country/county/city into small isolated units) never creates prosperity or economic growth.

I could talk about having one fire department, one police department, and one municipal government is inherently more efficient and less costly than maintaining the 10 or 15 in place now.

I could talk about a lot of things, but those are arguments that have been made ad nauseum, arguments to which people here seem intent on turning a deaf ear, seemingly happy with maintaining the status quo. Look, history is a good thing; heritage is a good thing. But hanging on to outdated and outmoded things just because it’s always been that way is not a good thing. It’s like insisting on wearing a cast on your leg months after the bone has healed. All you end up doing is weakening the leg.

But here’s one argument I’ve not heard made. And that involves understanding the bureaucratic mind.

As everyone freely admits, Harrisburg is overrun with bureaucrats. Unfortunately for Johnstown, those minds are the ones that allocate resources for highways, economic development, and funding for all sorts of neat things that cities love to have. The bureaucratic mind is rigid, lacking the vision to see possibilities, seeing only what is. Or their version of what is.

Here are the facts as a bureaucrat sees them.

Johnstown, with its population of 23,000 is ranked the 34th largest city in Pennsylvania. Consolidation would up that population figure to somewhere between 85,000 and 100,000. That would make Johnstown the 5th largest city in Pennsylvania. And if that population figure edges over 103,000, Flood City becomes number 4.

Remember those Harrisburg bureaucrats? They are obviously able to find ways to ignore the needs of the 34th largest city. They could never afford to ignore number 4.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, complains about how Johnstown continually gets the short end of the Pennsylvania stick. The roads that don’t get done, the improvements that never get made, projects that never get funded, and businesses that never take Johnstown seriously. Consolidation would take this city out of the municipal flyweight class and make it a 600-pound gorilla, an economic and political force that could never be overlooked or ignored again.

So, there it is. The dead horse, flogged yet again.

Of course, there are some local folks who would need to decide to stop being politicians concerned with their own survival and become statesmen who would put the needs of the people and the community before their own. Citizens would need to raise their eyes and look beyond the self-limiting box, seeing the future as a place to walk toward rather than something that might eventually arrive while we wait around.

When I talk about Johnstown to my out of state friends, I talk about a city that rebuilt and revitalized after three major floods. A city that, despite the economic body blow that was the death of iron, coal and steel, hung in and survived. I talk of a community of stout-hearted people who readily link arms and pull together in times of trouble; people for whom the word “quit” doesn’t exist. I want to see the City of Johnstown prosper, because the people of Johnstown deserve nothing less.

Any way you cut it, Johnstown, and the communities that surround it, lie at a crucial historical point. The city is emerging from its distressed status and now has to decide whether to stride forward vigorously, or sink back into oblivion. To stride forward will take discipline, hard work, and vision. Most of all, it will take courage.

But that’s one thing Johnstowners have in spades.

Will your leaders prove themselves worthy of you?
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