Most days here at the Herald, life is good, especially those when I get to enjoy the beauty of a nice snowfall, a hot cup of coffee and some good tunes on my MP3 player. Sure, it’s a bit chilly and my socks are still wet from traipsing through the snow to shoot photos of a vehicle wreck first thing this morning, but that’s just part of the job, the life of a newshound.
Unfortunately, all is not well.
Normally, one of my favorite chores on a Friday afternoon is proofing our letters to the editor. In all honesty, I think that section is probably one of the most important services a newspaper can provide to a community, giving its readers a voice when it sometimes seems like the world has gone deaf. Sometimes people use it to say thanks, others use it to rail on and on about what they feel has gone wrong, but either way it’s one of my favorite sections.
In the weekend edition, Ardis McCasland Jr., one of our regular contributors to this section, wrote regarding the Big Spring Economic Development Corporation and its use of taxpayer money.
McCasland seems to be extremely dissatisfied with the way the Big Spring EDC is utilizing its funding and, moreover, is reporting those expenses to the general public, saying, “All we ever hear about its function is when they pat themselves on the back for something they consider to be a positive.”
Now, normally I wouldn’t have a problem with someone expressing their opinion in such a way, however, Mr. McCasland is so far off base here it’s not even funny.
Add to that the fact we’re at a crossroads here in Big Spring where the effectiveness of the Big Spring EDC is about to be called onto the carpet, thanks to Mayor Tommy Duncan’s recent decision to call for a 4B water and wastewater project that could possibly cut the agency’s budget in half for the next several decades, and you have a situation where one man’s outspokenness has the potential to sway local voters into a not-so-informed decision.
Here are the facts, whether Mr. McCasland wants to acknowledge them or not.
The Big Spring EDC board of directors meets the third Tuesday of each month at 5:15 p.m. in the conference room at the Big Spring Area Chamber of Commerce office building, which they share, located on the corner of Third and Gregg Street.
“Little is published on the detailed operations of the Big Spring EDC,” Mr. McCasland said in his letter. “All we ever hear about its function is when they pat themselves on the back for something they consider to be a positive. No organization is perfect, not even the EDC.
“The Midland, Texas, equivalent to our EDC periodically issues a detailed report, published in the Midland Reporter Telegram, giving a resume of all aspects of their operations. It gives details of all of its finances, to whom the moneys were obligated, and, last but not least, a listing of all of its failures in addition to its successes. Our local EDC should be required to do the same, to be published in the Big Spring Herald. If the EDC objects to this, they must not be very proud of their operation.”
The truth, Mr. McCasland, is that same information is shared — and is readily available — at each of the local meetings, if you care to attend. Unfortunately, our pages — and resources — at the Herald are limited, and we are unable to print the complete financial report from the EDC in our pages. However, I have seen, for many, many years several die-hard residents attend those meetings with notebooks and pencils in hand, keeping records of those finances, so, if you are unable, or just unwilling to spend one evening a month with the board, you might want to get in touch with those who are.
One of the things in Mr. McCasland’s letter that really chapped my hide was his continued use and referral to the term “tax dollars” and “taxpayers” because I often wondered if he really had a firm handle on exactly who and what he was referring to.
“Mr. Wegman does not want to even give the citizens the chance to say yes or no,” he writes. “This indicates he feels the taxpayer would like to save some money by using tax moneys already in hand rather than having an additional tax burden placed upon them.”
First of all, the funding the EDC receives is certainly tax dollars, but it doesn’t come from taxpayers in the sense we normally think of, namely property owners. It comes from sales tax paid by everyone in the community, whether they own property or not. In fact, you don’t really even have to live in Big Spring to have chipped in toward the EDC’s funding, just passed through the city and stopped and bought gas or a meal.
This is what we writers like to refer to as a red herring. It’s a term or phrase that misleads the reader, usually intentionally. OK, so maybe Ardis isn’t trying to intentionally mislead us here, but you get the picture. Either way, it makes property owners, or “taxpayers” want to kick their feet because their “tax dollars” are being “misspent,” when in reality we’re not talking about the same tax dollars or even the same taxpayers.
I’ve worked with the Big Spring EDC — formerly Moore Development — for many, many years. Terry Wegman, and his predecessor, Kent Sharp, have worked hard to make Big Spring a better place to live and work, and deserve our praise.
On the other hand, dear Ardis, I’m afraid you have been led astray. You facts are lacking, your logic faulty and you seem content to jump to conclusions without a second thought about what rocky shores lay beneath you. Does Big Spring need better water? Certainly. However, is looting the economic development corporation for the next 20 years and sacrificing our community’s foothold in an already struggling job economy the way to get there?
Think before you leap.
Contact Staff Writer Thomas Jenkins at 263-7331 ext. 232 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org