Wednesday, October 1, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

The traffic situation at the north end of the Buckwalter parkway, involving Berkeley Hall, St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, the fire station, and Eagle’s Point, seems to be nearing a solution. It is an imperfect solution, but immeasurably better than what is currently there. The traffic signal will vastly improve safety at the cost of some hindrance to traffic flow. In my view, this is a prudent and humane bargain.

Interestingly, this is pretty much the same solution that was hammered out six years ago, although the real genesis of the problem was many years earlier. Traffic planners usually agree that major arterial highways are more efficient with frontage roads to space out the access points, among other benefits. At that time, virtually no one wanted frontage roads. Property owners wanted to maximize value of their land. Developers wanted to reduce their land costs. The public didn’t like the tax implications and public officials at all levels could not envision the growth of Bluffton, although they talked about it all the time.

As a consequence, what was initially an inconvenience, eventually turned into a potential disaster. After six years of wrangling, the least bad option is now the best option, although far from optimal. The good news is that reasonable folks realized they simply had to compromise if there was going to be any improvement before the inevitable catastrophe.

As a parishioner of St. Gregory, I was more than passing familiar with the situation. Many times I have offered my good offices in an effort to break the logjam, to avoid expensive litigation, and to reduce the growing risk. Recently, the logjam began to break up. A more cooperative spirit was evident among the parties, which allowed your delegation to bring state resources to bear. Working together, we got it done.

As much as I appreciate the many positive emails and calls, as well as some less than positive calls, it was the softening of formerly rigid positions that led to this progress. While I was a part of the process, your local statehouse delegation, Senator Davis, Representative Newton and this legislator, always try to work as a team. Together, we get much more done if we cooperate, and work to minimize any differences we might have over the details. Might even be a lesson in there somewhere.

At the risk of stretching the comparison, the education situation in Jasper County did not begin with the reapportionment that created our current House districts two years ago. In truth, this is a problem of generations, not years. As more school parents and other residents and stakeholders have come to realize, without a good quality, basic education, our young people will not be prepared for the demands of work and citizenship. In my view, the ongoing efforts seemingly to reduce the public’s participation are misguided. The pathway to improvement is through greater public participation, toward a fuller understanding that we are all stakeholders in the success of these children.

Just this week, your delegation was an integral part of the mediation mandated by Judge Gergel regarding the ACLU suit and the upcoming school board redistricting. I am confident that an essential feature of this process will be a dramatic expansion of the public’s role, not only at the school board, but county council, as well as at our delegation meetings.

Friends, whether it is the placement of a controversial traffic signal, or drawing the lines of voting districts, we must talk with one another in good faith. We must understand that compromise is not surrender; it is the beginning of the way forward. The more folks with open minds and open hearts that are charged with a task, no matter how complex or difficult, the more likely we are to succeed.