Chesterton Tribune

Debating Chesterton's future

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Commentary

By DAVID CANRIGHT

It was both a sad and happy day when 300 Chestertonians braved the cold to attend the public hearing on the GK development last week.

Happy because it is always a good thing when hundreds of citizens are willing to get involved to make our democratic system work. Happy because so many care about our town.

Sad because those who spoke in favor of the massive strip mall have such low expectations for the future of the community.

Surely in this instance we can do better.

It won’t be easy for town officials to say no.

Big developers are professionals. They know how to manipulate public opinion. They use the strategy of division, of pitting neighbor against neighbor.

They hire consultants to, as one Illinois consulting group puts it, “overcome local opposition” by painting opponents as irrational “zealots” only interested in “Moral Right and Wrong” as opposed to developers who seek the “Correct or Efficient.”

The strategy:

1. Secretly negotiate with landowners

2. Hire popular and likable local attorneys or consultants.

3. Propose a plan that is not likely to be approved but would be very profitable if the locals aren’t paying attention.

4. Work with town department heads to amend the plan to what was always wanted. Get the locals to think the changes are their idea.

5. Talk a lot about tax base and jobs, even if state and local laws and economy don’t guarantee a positive return for the town.

6. Encourage town officials to think of themselves as better informed than their citizens. Convince them that they are doing a courageous thing by approving the development.

7. Paint opponents as ignorant, emotional extremists.

8. Make it seem as if approval of the development is inevitable. Foster an air of hopelessness among opponents.

What can citizens do?

1. Never accept defeat. The fix is not in. The development is not inevitable until it is built.

2. Stay rational. Do the research. Show how rejection of the plan is both legal and necessary to do what is best for town taxpayers and voters.

3. Agree on goals. Consider what constitutes positive, acceptable development.

4. Get organized. Raise money. Get advice from consultants or lawyers as needed.

5. Reject emotionalism and extremism. Treat public officials with respect.

6. Take the long view. Recruit citizens to apply for local boards or stand as candidates in elections.

And for both sides: Don’t lump all who disagree with you together. There will always be some on both sides who go over the line. Remember that your opponents live here too. Next year, your kids will be on the same Little League team. The year after that you will be unexpected allies in the next big public debate.

Editor’s Note: The Chesterton Tribune is accepting Voice of the People letters on planning, zoning and other local issues. Letters should be 400 words or less and include a phone number for verification. Phone numbers will not be printed. Anonymous letters will not be printed. Writers are urged to avoid name-calling and be factual and accurate. Longer letters or commentaries may be printed to foster free discussion. Email as text in the body of the message to

news@chestertontribune.com

Writers may also email to check the status of their letters to the same address.

 

Posted 3/3/2006

 

 

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