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David Reynolds: Close to home

Leading up to the big election in less than a week, you and I have been bombarded by national news. But isn’t being an American all about being close to home?

Hopefully, we still believe that the government that is closest to the people is the government that governs best. We trust local government to educate our children. So, why can’t we trust local government to keep all the home fires burning? Too many times instead of taking charge of our own house we call on the White House. Is it not time we paid more attention to who is in charge down the street?

Our nation’s second Lexington, but first in our hearts, also has an election coming up. It also has a few economic problems. There are three seats up for grabs on the six-seat city council and two issues worthy of debate.

There are two real issues that never seem to change: (1) cooperation with the county and (2) missed opportunities. With the 600 square mile county that surrounds little old Lexington cooperation is wanting. Little Old’s vision stops at the city line. One consequence of this nearsightedness: Higher taxes in order to maintain independence.

As for the missed opportunities there is one overriding cause: complacency. There is little resolve to be all that it can be. Stonewall would not be pleased. Possibly this lack of resolve stems from the conventional wisdom that says as long as the city’s two factories are in business, the city will stay in business. Sorry, not today, not in the auto age. The roads are now paved – and they have lanes leaving town.

Lexington does not need to be like most college towns where the life blood flows out. It need not be the hole in the doughnut. We can reverse the flow. We can bring in more niche businesses. This can prevent Main Street after six from becoming an empty bowling alley where there is more gutter space than parked cars. Instead of debating solutions to the big issues city leaders get bogged down in the blame game, with the Chamber of Commerce on the list. After all, we no longer have LDDA to kick around.

We dig ourselves holes by punting away real issues. There are long discussions with long faces about the need to do more long-range planning. And it works! Whenever a sticky subject needs to be unstuck someone will suggest that we develop a “comprehensive plan.” That kills debate. The future is never now. And complacency rules the present. The last light is turned off and Lexington becomes best known as the mailing address for two colleges.

We also resort to “Lexington Speak,” the local dialect of academic talk, an essential language for those who get paid to talk. This year’s theological discussion: Is Lexington antibusiness? All five candidates for city council voiced an opinion or, at least, an article of faith. However, only one said that the town was business friendly! The others said “not unfriendly . . . ambivalent . . . not (sufficiently) aggressive with landlords.”

Is this the best we can say or do? Can’t we do more than raise taxes and hand out speeding tickets? Must the town continue to be stuck in its own alphabet soup of the ARB, the LPC, the LPD, the HLF and the LCC? There are more high hurdles to set up business in town than one would see at a track meet. We say it is for historic preservation. Yet we look the other way when a $4 million check is waived by a college donor. All hurdles came down and R. E. Lee’s school built a nondescript structure that hides R. E. Lee’s former church! Explain that to the general. Is it money or mendacity that we are all about?

Oh, I forgot, the city council candidates. We need to elect civic leaders who can lead by persuading others. No more beauty pageants disguised as elections, where candidates worry about how they look and sound. Why run for a seat when you have stood for little?

Nonetheless, two candidates stand out from the five running. Their vision goes beyond the city limits. Mary Harvey and George Pryde can help the Rockbridge area – not just Lexington – be better. Both are running to do something – not simply to be somebody. Harvey and Pryde compliment each other. Mary has the passion; George the smarts. Both qualities are needed on any governing body.

Mary Harvey is direct, honest (almost to a fault) and hard working. Her work on the city’s planning commission has earned her a promotion. Ms. Harvey is not afraid to take on the city’s two gorillas. Both schools need to contribute their share of running the city. Sorry W&L, token grants don’t pay the rent.

George Pryde has lived in the county. He knows the territory. George shoots straight, knows his facts and is a good listener. If what you have to say holds water, he will carry your bucket.

There you have it. Forget politics elsewhere. Think close to home. After all, that is where you and I live. Not in California or Nevada.

Column by David Reynolds