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Actually, You Can Fix Stupid

For two months that have seemed a whole lot longer, Greenville government has been preoccupied with the results and potential effects of the November election, which appears to signal a sea change on city council. Beyond making Calvin Mercer the body’s pro-tem and approving yet another completely unnecessary study of possible development schemes along the Tar River, councilors have done very little – unless you count privately mulling their next moves.

This two-month reconnoiter is typical. The end of the campaign coincides with the beginning of the holiday period – in this cycle especially, by the time the electoral protests played out. And while the respite tends to be more pronounced after an about-face like this one (or like the last, two years ago), I’m hoping this lull isn’t the harbinger of another all-too-common practice. One even more dangerous, in terms of creating a city that works.

I’m talking about a changed municipal body’s tendency to avoid taking bold, decisive action to reverse the bad decisions of its immediate predecessors.

IMHO long

In nearly 40 years of observing and reporting on the work of public bodies, I’ve seen it time and again. New panels often hesitate – or downright refuse – to change the ill-conceived actions of those they have replaced. Often justified by “concerns” for “damaging their legacy” or “appearing too activist,” such refusal to act is indefensible, and all too often forms the crux of a municipality’s inability to overcome stasis.

Ron White’s catch phrase, “You can’t fix stupid,” springs to mind. Though it has buttered the comic’s bread (for longer, quite frankly, than I can understand), the opposite is actually true. When it comes to running a city at least, you can fix stupid. Indeed, if you’re an elected official, fixing stupid is your job.

The last council’s majority did some pretty dumb things. Here’s hoping the new majority hears the voters who granted them the privilege of serving us, and is brave enough to fix those mistakes without delay or apology.

A good place to start would be immediately rescinding the change to the three-unrelated rule.

The last council granted landlords the ability to house, in one single-family home, four unrelated individuals (read: students) in the University neighborhood. It was a completely transparent effort to improve those landlords’ bottom lines, and very possibly a quid pro quo in return for supporting the election of the council members who sought the change. It was enacted free of any concern for the real-world, long-term damage it would wreak for those who own – and actually live in – homes in that neighborhood year-round. After the change was approved, many neighborhood residents signed on to a lawsuit challenging it.

City council’s responsibilities do not include assuring that students can afford near-campus housing. That’s ECU’s concern, and the fact that the University itself opposed the change should have been enough for the prior council to drop it. ECU’s opposition – plus that of the city’s own planning and zoning commission, its neighborhood advisory board and many residents – fell on deaf ears, but that’s no reason to keep the change in force. On the contrary, doing so would constitute a serious dereliction of duty and expose the city to legal costs it should never have incurred in the first place.

So, new council, let ECU worry about Max Joyner’s legacy. Now that the governor has appointed the former city councilor a thorn in its side university trustee, ECU likely has plenty to worry about. For the rest of us, however, the safety, beauty and sustainability of one of our city’s most beautiful neighborhoods is at stake.

Now, about those “traffic cushions” downtown.

A recent story in the Daily Reflector attempts to clarify the mysterious origins of these improperly placed obstacles, but – like other attempts to learn the truth – fails to do so. Was this so-called “pilot study” perhaps the result of mayoral intervention? There is nothing about such a “study” in any council proceedings prior to the humps’ appearance. Might the mayor have insisted on their placement – without ever putting it through a public process, as recommended by the Institute of Transportation Engineers – in order to keep his bar-owning campaign donors happy?

Regardless how they got there, and despite city staff singing the praises of speed humps more generally in the Reflector piece, the ones at issue were installed in a manner 180 degrees opposed to their designed application. The ITE says speed humps are meant to calm traffic in residential neighborhoods, where traffic lights and even stop signs are few or absent. Speed humps, though not the prefab type plaguing downtown – are in fact already in use in several city neighborhoods. They have no place, however, amid commercial blocks with traffic lights at both of the blocks’ intersections – which is exactly where they are placed downtown.

So, new council, here’s another chance for you to fix stupid: The speed humps downtown should be removed. The dichotomy of trying to increase traffic to our urban core while placing devices shown to reduce trips in the places they exist is obvious.

Unless, of course, one is stupid.

Anthony Noel is a co-founder of the Guardian. His column appears about once a month, or when something really pisses him off – whichever comes first.

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Responses (2)

  1. Rufus Huggins says:

    You are so right. Why do we keep paying for studies? We have staff that can put this together and, if not, why not ECU? I spent twelve years on the council. I tell you this, these studies are being put together with most of the information coming from staff. It seems there are members of the council who can find money for anything except employees’ cost-of-living pay raise. We deserve the people we elect.

  2. Adele Grier says:

    Why doesn’t anyone on council address the crazy driving in this town . The Daily Reflector keeps us informed about the large # of wrecks each week, the car damage and injuries. The people benefitting are the medical facilities, lawyers and body shops. Why don’t they seriously address the issue of pedestrian crossing walks on 264??? I guess individual safety just isn’t valued!!!

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