Saturday, January 13, 2018
Government service is not for the impatient.
Not that it stops people who have an impatient streak from seeking public office. People, in our experience, generally run for office (at least the local ones) out of a sense of civic responsibility, a drive to contribute toward making their communities a little better. But mixed in with that are various levels of ego ("I'm the right person for the job.") and self-interest (making a name for oneself, being a mover/shaker). Nobody seeks public office with a desire to be a wallflower, although we've seen our share of aldermen, quorum court members and legislators who might have been mistaken for a piece of furniture once or twice.
What’s the point?
The creeping pace of progress in government projects can be frustrating, but Benton County leaders should stay a steady course on its efforts to build a new courts facility.
That's a matter of style, not necessarily substance. Even tamer public officials want to see progress that matches up with their political philosophies. And the amount of time it takes to get things done in the public sector can be excruciating for someone who, in their professional or personal lives, are used to getting things done yesterday.
The process of government is slow. This system our Founding Fathers set up is devoted to a lot of discernment, to weighing out the pros and the cons, and, one hopes, building a necessary level of consensus among people of disparate backgrounds and interests. Congress, once upon a time, could have been cited as a prime example. Today, we're not so sure.
But patience is a vital quality when it comes to government policy and projects. And nobody can say Benton County officials have been too speedy in its deliberations about construction of a new courts facility. The project could cost more than $20 million. The issue has been around for years. Decades, really. And the current iteration has been front and center for quite a few years. Benton County is close to resolving it. Tantalizingly close. Some discussions focused on putting a ballot question before voters at the same time as the May 22 primary, but at a recent meeting, members of the Benton County Quorum Court wavered, potentially forcing the issue to November's general election or, if county officials prefer, a special election.
"I don't think May is even a possibility," Justice of the Peace Tom Allen said. "We don't even know the costs yet."
Then, impatience got the better of his colleague, Justice of the Peace Pat
Adams, who opposed any delay in putting the project before the public.
"We need to either get on with it or shelve it and get on with the business of the county," Adams said.
That is an entirely reasonable reaction, given how long county leaders have wrestled with an expansion that would create the secure and functional spaces needed to handle Benton County's 21st century judicial system. The court caseloads have grown significantly. Benton County's courts are now under no fewer than four different roofs. Anyone who has watched the growth of Rogers, Bentonville, Siloam Springs, Decatur, Gentry and other parts of Benton County can easily understand why yesterday's solutions are not efficient for today's caseloads.
It doesn't make sense, however, to let impatience wreck the progress toward a solution that's happening. Adams' notion of getting on with the new courts facility or shelving it, while heartfelt, is misplaced. Shelving all the work wouldn't make sense, and doing so would not remove the inadequacy of the court system facilities from "the business of the county."
A courthouse done right will serve a community for many decades. Some have been known to remain in use for more than 100 years. Getting it right is crucial. And taking the steps necessary to build a strong case for a funding mechanism even more so.
Adams isn't alone in his impatience. We share it and he's not necessarily wrong to feel that way. But with all the recent progress, county leaders are wise not to give in to a final rush that might threaten support for the project. A well-considered project on the November ballot is far preferable to a project on the May ballot that's surrounded by lots of questions.
Unanswered questions can turn into "no" votes.
So, keep the progress coming, Benton County. Don't let the courts facility get bogged down again, but put those finishing touches on the proposal so that reasonable questions are answered and people can feel confident in not just the project but the process.
Commentary on 01/13/2018
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