By David Tulis
Many dozens of people gathered on the fourth floor of the public library in downtown Chattanooga on Wednesday to write statements of opinion on wall-pasted sheets of paper, viewpoints about infrastructure, education, amenities, prosperity.
The third event of four is part of a government-funded effort to serve business and planning cadres in a work to ease the seeming inefficiencies of divided government on the local level. The inefficiency is visible at the point at which those local bodies are obligated to work with a unitary government in a faraway national capital.
[First published April 11, 2013, this overview of Thrive 2055 tells about its Chattanooga meetings. Its strength is, perhaps, brevity. — DJT]
The goal of the F$3 million program is the creation of a “regional plan” in which elected officials and people on government and quasi-government payrolls think in terms of a 16-county area covering three states, and not according to local, insular or parochial interests. Thrive 2055, as it unfolds itself in a carefully crafted protocol, seeks to unite the governmental interests of “stakeholders” to present a unified face to Uncle Sam and his departments of transportation, environmental protection, education and housing.
As big speaks to big, local officials perceive a need to have a unified voice in getting federal dollars, as if in so doing they might avoid the peril seen by the French philosopher Lamennais that centralization brings apoplexy at the center and paralysis at the extremities. As the engorgement of federal coffers continues exponentially on credit, and as localities are hypnotized by a mix of grants and terror, there seems a need to reduce a paralysis in the hinterlands and to make a stagger toward boldness and purpose.
Scrupulous care for your rights assured
Organizers insist the regional plan is merely advisory to elected bodies. Its managers will wield no force of law, and the system does not deprive anyone of property rights. They insist it does not offend the principles of the free market and is not conceived of as curing any market failure. Market failure is often argued by parties favoring entry into a new sector in which government can become a regulator and commercial actor. Supporters I interviewed declare the Thrive 2055 program is merely a help to people who wield real power — elected officials who direct the flow of tax dollars and write ordinances.
Thrive 2055 is in a public relations phase of the plan. In this phase, self-selected people, civic minded and full of good will, scratch out their public desiderata and opinions as inputs for Clarion & Associates, a PR company hired to manage the program. Later, when these opinions have been tallied and absorbed, the pressure will mount on elected officials to be sports and not spoil the people’s wishes. These arrangements — a long series of ratification votes by elected officials under the shadow of the plan — are called governance.
Insofar as the effort is a function of public policy, it cares little for anyone’s opinion. But gathering “public input” is simply part of the marketing so that the plan will appear to have risen from the people, from a popular voice, thereby uniting public policy with public goodwill, and providing later a shield against criticism. Public gatherings are a stroking of the public, an act of deference that recognizes, at least in Tennessee, that a free people run a free government, and every effort to enhance the power of government has to contain the component of representation.