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Local government should go big or go home with plans

By Dan Pool, Editor

A retired friend with proven credentials in government and business who now calls this area home was having lunch with me recently. He did not want to be named but gave a perfect example of how Pickens County is regressive when it comes to planning.

Consider the idea of the mountain bike proposed by a land trust for north Pickens and the county leaders’ reactions. [Please note this has nothing to do with the actual merits of that proposal.]

When it was first mentioned, the government response was essentially a combination of the following: we need to look into this; might be something good; we’ll try to help.

Nowhere was there reference of whether a passive park in north Pickens fits or does not fit into our long-range recreation goals. 

A more progressive government, according to my experienced friend, would have immediately been able to assess it based on their long-range plans. Are more recreation areas a goal of the county? Or have the taxpayers generally said they prefer government to focus on traditional sports fields?

Whenever something like this comes up, it’s like reinventing a wheel in Pickens County.

Adding more planning meetings may seem like a minor point, but it substantially changes the way the local governments operate. It switches from decisions based on what the top officials feel at the spur of the moment to what is developed through planning processes, written down and formalized. It does not rule-out revision or improvisation, but is a recognized starting point.

It’s true the county has a Joint Comprehensive Plan that ludicrously runs through 2028 but it’s rarely referred to and never publicly checked to see if we are working towards the listed goals.

The document, running around 100 pages with a lot of graphics, is vaguely encouraging but short on nuts and bolts.

For example, the current comprehensive plan notes that “goods producing job growth is declining” and that 51 percent of our working residents commute out of the county.

It then gives 13 different measures to promote economic development including “expand business and industrial recruitment efforts” as though it were that simple.

One of the more interesting notes of the plan which, includes input from Jasper, Nelson and Talking Rock, is under infrastructure (page 60), “Consider the formation of an independent water and sewer authority to plan and manage services county-wide. (The City of Jasper does not concur with this.)” The italics are in the plan.

This plan alone makes a decent first step towards a lot of improvements, but what is lacking is a champion. Some leadership from the commissioners or others, perhaps our magistrate judge who is working to promote more planning, is needed to take what is essentially a dead document and put it into action.

After all it took Tom Brady on the field, not just the Patriots’ game plan, to win the Super Bowl (sorry Falcons fans). 

We’d challenge our commissioners and public officials to be ambitious. Throw out some big ideas. Maybe one reason Pickens County is not progressing as much as some want is no one is daring to dream a better future.

Whether it is recreation areas, economic development opportunities or significantly expanded water and sewage, our government officials must set the course, not just react when someone shows up with an idea. What is our strategy in 10 years? What kind of benchmarks are we going to measure whether we are making progress or not? What do our leaders think are the obstacles and challenges that are holding us back? 

Next Tuesday, there is a state-required meeting on the Comprehensive Plan (see article on page 4A). If you have views of where we need to go by all means attend. If not, then at least encourage our leaders to go big or go home.


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