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