Wednesday, November 5, 2014

It's been a tough week in Clinton, South Carolina, our hometown, out here on the edge of the Upstate...

The highlight of my favorite weekly radio show on National Public Radio begins when the announcer, in his cool mid-western tones, announces “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegone, my hometown”. He then proceeds to tell stories of the residents who live there and their adventures in a small Minnesota farming community. Often, when I sit down to write this column for you, I think of starting with “It’s been a quiet week in Clinton”.

Only it hasn’t been a quiet week at all. It’s been a tough week. It’s been kind of week that you talk about for years to come. It’s been the kind of week that finds its way to the top shelf of stories that old folks tell young folks when the times get tough in order to show them just how tough the times can be.
It didn’t start out that way for any of us, but as you can read on the front page of this newspaper, it became a tough week for some. And as I said to the media we are deeply disturbed by the allegations. I also stand by the words I said after that to the tv stations and to the newspapers, which were aimed directly at you, our citizens. We do not want a community in which citizens feel afraid when a city employee is present.
Because many of our city employees are good people. You know, when your grandma would say “He’s good people”. They are that kind of good people.
They are the kind of people, who on Thursday and Friday, volunteered their time to serve lunch to the patrons at Fatz Café in order to raise money for Special Olympics. If you were lucky enough, like I was, to see some of our public safety officers wrangling sodas and delivering lunch specials, you realized just how special some of these people are. You realized that for many of our employees, this is not a job, it is a calling and the reward is knowing that at the end of the day some small part of our community was made better because of their actions.
Then there was Saturday. As I peered out of our window into a quiet neighborhood at 5:45 in the morning, I was shocked to find that it wasn’t just snowing; we were having what will forever be known as “the blizzard of ‘14”. Before I had time to absorb the beauty of it all, the sky was lit with the electric blue glow of fuses blowing and transformers failing that signaled the beginning of a long day.
And the employees came. Your employees left their families in the dark, scrapped whatever Saturday plans they had, and came to work to do their absolute very best to get power back on to you so that your Saturday plans wouldn’t be a complete washout.
They worked for hours, non stop, in the rain and the cold. Electric workers worked to get power restored. Water and sewer workers worked with mobile generators to keep the sewer pump stations operational even though we had lost power to several of them. Mechanics worked to keep generators in the field working so the water distribution system would continue to work. No one complained. No one. And then many of them came in on Sunday to clean up the mess and address trouble spots in the system.
And as if getting power, water, and sewer systems back on line wasn’t enough, they put on a festival for the kids Saturday night in downtown. Although it was cold, we still had fun. One of your city employees, one who had been at work on Saturday all day, told me how much he enjoyed knowing that he was helping his neighbors.
It was tough week in Clinton. But like the Krebspaughs and Bunsens of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone community, we come together in times of trial and persevere. I hope, that when you see a city employee, you will see a person who gives of their time to help others, who comes in without having to be called when the city faces a challenge, who quietly works with pride to do the best they can to make your hometown, and ours, the best it can be.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fragile Fiscal Health - A Challenge for Every City

The National League of Cities produced a list this year of ten critical issues facing American cities. Number one on the list for cities is probably the same as number one on your own household list: financial health. The National League of Cities believes that the number one challenge facing communities is their fragile fiscal condition.

Fiscal condition is paramount on my mind lately because the auditors have arrived. The conference room next to my office is piled high with boxes of financial records. Files are spread out across tables. Nearly every seat is occupied by a well-dressed highly trained accountant types busily going through the city’s financial records. The only sound that comes from them is the occasional shuffle of paper, the gentle whirr of laptop computers, and the soft taps of keystrokes.

Each year, the city brings in an outside accounting firm, lays all of our records out on the table and these independent auditors go through everything with a fine tooth comb. Their job is to review your city’s financial health, and make an independent report to City Council regarding our fiscal health. After they assault our records, they produce a report that outlines how your money was used to manage your city, and they look at a variety of other statics too to produce a report that really is a true picture of the city’s financial health. These reports, known as Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, which meet high standards set by the Government Finance Officer’s Association in regards to providing a clear and accurate picture of the community’s finances area eligible for an annual award from the GFOA.

While the record shows that we do a pretty good job of pinching every penny and meeting every requirement that the Government Accounting Standards Board expects us to meet, the record also shows that we operate on a razor’s edge when it comes to revenue and expenditures. We meet the National League of Cities definition of fragile fiscal health

What makes me say we have a fiscal health concern? Let’s look at a few facts. First, our budget growth is not keeping up with inflation. The cost of goods and services that you city needs to provide the level of service that we believe you expect are growing, and the dollars available to buy those goods and services are not growing at the same rate. Secondly, there just are not as many employees to do the work that there used to be. Your city workforce once exceeded 140 but now is just 100 employees. The workload has not decreased, and while I think our employees have done a good job keeping service delivery at a high rate, you can see that we are having to cut a few corners to keep up.

By no means am I trying to paint a bleak picture for our community or the future. Things are getting better in our community each and every day, and more good news is on the way for us as our region grows and develops. As a city, we are investing in technology to allow us to provide better service delivery with fewer resources. We are also making financial adjustments to reduce operating expenditures. Several hundred thousand dollars in expenditures have been saved by adjusting our employee benefit programs, evaluating and adjusting existing service contracts, and refinancing debt. Our reserve funds have grown steadily over the past three years and will continue to grow thanks to sound financial policies put in place by your Mayor and City Council. We look for ways to save you money every day, and we will continue to do so.

We’ve never been a city government with piles of cash. Although our offices are in a building that in its previous life was bank; the vault in the basement holds files, not funds. We have no desire to be a government that has piles of cash in the bank because its just not good policy for us to charge citizens cash that we don’t need and then sit on it. I’ve said before publicly, and I believe it whole heartedly, that your city government needs to keep working to find ways to keep your money in your pocket because every dollar you pay us in taxes or utility payments is a dollar that you can’t spend on things you need and it is a dollar you can’t spend in a local business to support our local economy.

And although you may not believe it when you have to pay your tax bill, or your utility bill, our auditors and the national Government Finance Officers’ Association will tell you we are pretty good at managing your money wisely and transparently. You don’t have to take my word for it - the twenty five Government Finance Officers Association Awards for Excellence in Financial Reporting that line the wall of the Municipal Center speak for themselves.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves

I’ve been to Florida. I’ve been to visit Mickey Mouse in his Magic Kingdom, seen the future in Orlando’s EPCOT, been to the Orange Bowl (the old one in the heart of Miami) and rooted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on their home field. However, I have never been to Florida’s little city of Hampton.

Hampton is a tiny little town of less than 500 people that, through its own behavior, nearly got itself dissolved by the Florida legislature. Money went missing, a police force of nineteen officers ran a speed trap on the highway that oozed corruption, and the mayor was in jail. Council meetings were not held at regular times, water meters were not tracked, and a state mandated audit revealed mishandling of public money.

The point of telling you about Hampton is not to draw comparisons regarding corruption. In Clinton, we produce an independent audit each year, and we develop our annual operating budget in a transparent and public process. This year we released our first accountability report, which explains in detail what we have accomplished in the past year. All of these documents are on the City’s website, and all of our City Council meetings are open to the public. You City Councilmembers want to hear your thoughts on the issues. Your city is transparent, honest, and operates above board. You may not agree with or like every decision that your local government makes, but none of those decisions are made behind closed doors. In fact, we have been recognized for our efforts to create open and honest audits and budgets by the Government Finance Officers Association.

The real story of Hampton isn’t corruption. We hear that story everyday for a long list of government agencies, private organizations, and corporations. The point of the story of Hampton is how it has taken steps to save itself.

When threatened by the Florida State Legislature with dissolving of the city’s charter, which means the little town of Hampton would no longer exist, the people of Hampton would choose instead to rise up. A former city clerk, from Hampton’s pre – corruption days, came back to her office in city hall and is getting the city’s finances back on track. A new mayor has convinced the citizens that Hampton is worth saving. A local religious leader has galvanized an army of volunteers to improve the city, and an attorney experienced in municipal issues has signed on as the city’s attorney and works for the whopping salary of zero dollars and no cents.

Our city has faced challenges in the past that threatened to wipe our city off the map. We all know that Clinton is a transportation town birthed from the railroad, but after the Civil War the railroad stopped running through the city. The citizens would rise and raise the money to restart the rail road line, knowing full well that the city could not survive without its connection to the outside world.

In 1905, Presbyterian College considered leaving town. Recruited by the cities of Sumter, York, Chester, and others, the college considered closing its campus in the heart of Clinton and relocating to a community that might be a bit more prosperous at the turn of the century. Once again, the citizens of Clinton would rise. This time they would raise the money to help the college, and reinforce the city’s commitment to preserving a defining institution.

In the 1940s we would rise. The city’s men were off fighting on the war front. Those left behind kept the city together, supported each other in times of loss, and protected each other from a polio outbreak that threatened to ravage the city.

In the turn of the century our city faced another challenge. Textile mill after textile mill would shut its doors, leaving thousands unemployed. The Charlotte Observer would send a reporter down to Clinton to write an article that predicted the death of a mill town, and that mill town just happened to be our town.

We are still here.

We refuse to accept the destiny that an out of town newspaper predicted for us.

We refused it because we have long history of not listening to what people say about us. We have a long history of rising up as a people when threatened.

We are threatened now.

While little Hampton fights a culture of corruption, we are fighting some very different demons. We are fighting rising meth use as a state, we are fighting for better employment opportunities as a city, and we are fighting probably the most dangerous enemy of all – ourselves.

As a community, we must focus on helping our neighbors rise so that they can obtain the jobs that are out there, and there are jobs out there right now that corporations in our community are having trouble filling. We must break the cycle we are in now to lead our neighbors away from the negative aspects of our community and towards the positive, and we must encourage positive attitudes and positive discussion among diverse groups in our community on how we can make this city better. We must focus on the good, on partnerships, and on shared sacrifice. Those three things have helped our ancestors in this place weather the storms they faced and it will help us to do the same.

Little Hampton is still fighting for its right to exist. Yes the community stepped up to the plate in the state of spring training and is trying to take its swing at bat, but the jury is still out for tiny little Hampton. The jury is still out for us too, but unlike Hampton we have been here before, and we have a tradition in our city – a tradition of rising up and doing what needs to be done right when it needs to be done. Roll up your sleeves Clintonians, it’s time to go to work.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Goodbye Old Friend

Some of our citizens lost their favorite tree this week. The grand old oak at the corner of Main and Broad had few equals in our city. Dwarfed only by water towers and the AT&T tower, it had touched the sky in the center of our city for decades.

Ten years ago, when the first big limbs fell from the tree, we knew it was only a matter of time before the tree reached the end of its life. Two weeks ago, when an enormous limb fell crashing from the tree on a windless clear day, the city took steps to have a professional asses the tree’s condition. The severe cracks that now ran through the tree, and the weakened branches and trunk that had slowly become hollow over the past few years meant that a big piece of the tree could let go at any minute. If that piece feel on a pedestrian, a person attending an event, or your passing car, then the results would have been disastrous. We took action, because we knew that the tree could hurt you or a member of your family if it were to fail.

Trees have a large positive impact on our community. According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, trees can be a stimulus to economic development by attracting new business and tourism. The foundation goes on to point out that commercial retail areas with trees are more attractive to shoppers, landscaping can help apartments rent more quickly, business and residential tenants stay longer, and the value of space in a tree lined area is higher. Look to downtown Greenville as an example. The landscaping and the trees make the area more inviting, and the City of Greenville will credit the environment as a key component of their central business district’s success.

Trees have a big impact on your neighborhood too.  The United States Forest Service reports that trees can add 10% to your property values, and if you add some other landscaping to go with that tree then you can see the property values increase by 20%. Tree lined streets not only enhance property values, but they enhance community health by removing pollutants and carbon dioxide from the air. That tree in your backyard can even help reduce your stress levels. According to a study from Texas A&M University, people who were exposed to tree settings recovered form stressful events faster.

Your publicly owned electric utility is impacted by trees. First, trees planted correctly around your house can reduce your energy bill in the summertime by anywhere from 3% to 30% depending on the size of the tree and your home’s condition. However, when a tree is planted too close to a power line, the City has to spend time and money trimming the tree to keep it from impacting your electric service. A tree limb weighted down by ice or leaves can hit an electric line and cause and outage. In fact, in Clinton the leading causes of electric outages that last longer than five minutes are tree related.

Trees, like all living things, require care. If you have a tree on your property, then it is your responsibility to maintain it and make sure that is structurally sound and does not pose a threat to neighbors or people using public sidewalks and streets near your home. When you a plant a tree, be sure to make sure that you call 811 and have your underground utilities located to make sure that your tree’s location will not impact any underground utilities. Also, be sure not to plant a tree that will grow too tall near a power line, because if the tree impacts the power line, the city will be required to trim it or may require you to remove the tree.

Trees have a significant benefit for cities. Studies have shown that people spend more time shopping and spend more money with business located on well landscaped streets. Trees in your neighborhood can go a long way to keeping your utility bills in check in the summertime, and trees improve the value of your property. However, for a long time we as a community have taken our trees for granted. It’s time for us to take a long hard look at planting more trees in our community and restoring tree lined neighborhood streets. It takes many years for a tree to reach a mature size, and while we are waiting for the tree you planted today to grow up, we are losing our city’s older trees to age, decay, and disease and an alarming rate.

I think everyone who lives in our city has a favorite tree. Maybe it’s the one in your backyard that shades your hammock in the summertime. It could be the one you planted with your kids many years ago. For me, it’s the small one at the corner of Broad Street and Calhoun that blooms bright every spring. It’s the first tree in town to wake up after the winter, and I have often thought of it as the one that leads the others out of their long winter slumber. This year our city will have one less tree this spring. Spring will come regardless, we will plant a new tree downtown, and I hope you plant a new one in your yard too.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking Ahead (and a little bit behind)...

If you asked me last year if I thought the city was heading in the right direction I would have told you yes, we most definitely are following the correct course. Are we solving every problem? No. Are we getting better at it? You bet we are.

Here’s how I know we are moving in the right direction. We are replacing ageing water infrastructure at  a steady pace. Musgrove Street, portions of Clinton Mill, Lydia Mill, Gastley Drive, portions of Holly Street, portions of York Street, and other areas all received new water service over the past couple of years. Sidewalks in Lydia Mill and Clinton Mill both have been repaired. Solid plans to upgrade equipment have been developed. We have retrofitted our generators (which we run to save the city money on its electric bill which in turn allows us to absorb some of the PMPA wholesale power rate increases), starting taking a hard look at utility rates, started replacing water meters with more efficient system, testing a new electric meter system, and replacing ageing software programs that keep us from being as efficient at city hall as we should and could be. All things we should be doing and some things that will put us in the lead when it comes to the level of service we provide.

We’ve also invested in our personnel to give them the skills and tools needed to do the job. Supervisors have more supervisory and leadership training than they have ever had access to in the past. Three city employees are graduates of the South Carolina Economic Development School, four are candidates for certification in public power utility management, and two are candidates for utility customer service credentialing programs. Four staff members graduated from USC Municipal Department Head training this year. We are also successfully recruiting highly capable personnel at every level of the organization. Our problems require smart solutions, and we are getting smarter every day.

But that’s the past. Let’s talk about the road ahead and what we need to address in 2014.

In 2014, we have to continue to look at finding equitable ways to fund government. Fire trucks and police cars and utility services are not free. It takes people, equipment, and money to provide the services you rely on every day.  Our costs are rising, despite our best efforts to reduce them over the past few years through staff reductions of nearly 20% and delaying replacement of infrastructure and equipment, in some cases to the point where we now have no choice but to replace equipment. In funding government we have to be mindful every day that this is your money that you are investing with your neighbors in order to create a nice place to live and work. We cannot and are not wasteful with what you have provided and we must continue to be mindful of your investment in our city.

In 2014 we need to take a long hard look at how we enforce property maintenance codes. Our city should not and cannot be a city where substandard housing is ignored, where abandoned building eat up city blocks, and where property owners are not held accountable for the actions they take which negatively impact all residents. Our employees charged with this task are doing a great job which is evident by the fact that in the past five years code enforcement personnel have had approximately 100 derelict and abandoned structures torn down largely through voluntary compliance measures which have kept costs to taxpayers low. Now however, many of the easy projects have been completed, and we find ourselves dealing with property owners who live out of state, or who challenge or efforts on legal grounds. It is time for us to take a long hard look at how we enforce property maintenance codes and change them to make sure we are protecting our citizens, neighborhood property values, and not interfering unnecessarily in what a private landowner does with his or her property.

In 2014 we must continue to work on economic development and we must pursue economic development as a regional team. The county and the cities must work together to develop new opportunities, change strategies that are not working, and implement new tactics to recruit employment opportunities for our citizens. Economic development should be a team effort because, in all honesty, it is my belief that you don’t care who recruits the industry, as long as they come here. Partnerships are built on trust, and economic development can be highly risky, but the special purpose districts, local government entities, and economic development corporations that are dabbling in it must coordinate their efforts, support and trust each other, and jointly take the necessary risks to bring prosperity to our community. Participation has to be more than simply saying something is good idea. We must take actions to grow our city, our county, and our region.  

And finally, we have to find new ways to support the efforts of our schools. By schools, I mean everywhere that our residents go for education. From our public elementary schools to the hallowed halls of Presbyterian College, a greater portion of our economy is becoming based on providing educational services to residents and non-residents.  The future of our city depends heavily on the quality of education that our residents receive both in grade school and in post-secondary education. While we can all talk of people who made it very far along the road of life without very much education, the reality is that making it without an education is about as likely as winning the mega millions lottery – for the majority of people its just not going to be a reality. Our future depends on the quality of education that our residents receive, and those cities that are thriving and succeeding and winning the new developments in retail and manufacturing are those cities whose populations are highly educated.

Edith Lovejoy Pierce wrote “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day”. Opportunity awaits us in 2014, but we are responsible for recognizing it, being prepared to capitalize on it, and seeing that opportunity become reality for our city in 2014.

Spend Your Money...Right Here

Do you remember the scene in the movie A Christmas Story that shows little Ralphie and the family in their downtown gazing in wonder at the toy display in the window of the department store? When I was a kid my hometown had a department store just like the one in Ralphie’s hometown called Globman’s. It was just down the street from a family owned shoe store named McCollum – Ferrell. I hated them both. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, that could ruin a seven year old child’s Saturday faster than being dragged to Globman’s and McCollum-Ferrell on a family shopping trip.

Globman’s was founded in my hometown in 1915, and McCollum –Ferrell started selling shoes in 1947. I wish I could tell you that these fine old stores, where store clerks knew their customers by their first name, believed that the customer was always right, and led the way in the community by supporting area charities, were still in business. They are not. They were both killed by the shopping mall that I and my friends hung out at in high school. After the shopping mall killed these two generations-old family businesses, it proceeded in serial killer fashion to wipe out other downtown stores as well.

Shopping, which we all know is not the reason for the holiday season, plays a critical part of our holiday celebrations. While the main street in the town I grew up in is eerily reminiscent of an old western ghost town haunted by tumbleweeds and lost fortunes, the businesses in our city are still alive and kicking. Here in Clinton you can walk into any number of businesses and be greeted by name. Store owners strike up a conversation about your family, football, or any number of interests. Store owners give to local charities, sponsor your child’s youth sports team, champion causes such as the United Way, and cheer the football team to victory on Friday night right alongside you.

They survive only because you choose to shop there, and when you stop shopping there, they will go out of businesses. Stop and think for a moment what our city would be like if downtown were dead. Does anyone really want to live in a dead city? Do you think a major employer would choose to build a new manufacturing plant in a town that had no shops, no restaurants, no community pride or no community spirit?  

Many times citizens will approach me or a member of my staff and tell us about a business in another town that they wish would locate here. Our shopping habits may actually be preventing those businesses from locating here.  As long as we are willing to travel to another town to be a patron of a business in that town, then that business will not choose to locate here. Why would they invest tens of thousands of dollars in building and opening a new store when we, their customers, are perfectly willing to get in our car and drive up to fifty miles to buy their goods or eat in their restaurant?

I know that as you read this you are pinching your pennies to buy that special gift, pay for groceries, and cover travel costs to see far off relatives this holiday season. You are not alone in your penny pinching because your neighbors, who own and work in businesses in our town, are doing the same. I know you are seeking out the best online deals and waiting in long lines at the mall to get a few percentage points off the price. I know you have to do that, because money is tight. My wife and I are doing it too. Do your neighbor a favor, and take a moment to stop in a local business this holiday season. My family will be doing some of Christmas shopping locally this year. You might be surprised at what you will find in a local store. There are good deals, perfect gifts, great services, and delicious meals to be had right here in our city. I know it is unreasonable to expect anyone to spend all of their money here but do yourself and the business community a favor and just check out a local business out this season.

Protecting our local business community is a two way street. Business owners must recognize that their competition is global. A local business isn’t competing with another local business located on the same street, but instead they are competing with hundreds of retailers in Greenville, Spartanburg, Columbia, Greenwood, and Newberry, and they are competing with the thousands of retailers that can be found online with the click of a button. Business owners must look for innovative ways to partner with each other to provide competitive value for our citizens, and that means being open, working together, and supporting events that your city puts on to bring customers to your doorstep. It also means working with your local government to help us find ways to partner to make you successful.

During the holiday season we all reminisce fondly about holidays past, which is what led me to think about the old stores in my hometown and how much I hated Saturday’s spent Christmas shopping as a kid.  I realize now how critical these family run businesses are to our city and to any city. Few things are more American than a family that builds the American dream over generations of managing a family business.  All that is left of the family businesses that were once Globman’s and McCollum Ferrell are their names etched into the marble façades of the buildings they once occupied. The stores didn’t go out of business because of bad service, bad location, bad management or bad products. They closed their doors because the communities they supported and staked their names and reputations on for decades stopped supporting them. We let them down. We looked the other way when they needed us the most. We worried about saving a dime and ended up paying thousands of dimes in tax money to support laid of store clerks and to try and salvage downtown storefronts. We failed.

This holiday season take the advice of the Chamber of Commerce and shop in Laurens County first. Your neighborhood business owners have invested in our city and now is the time for us to do the same. We have the ability to keep our city’s businesses alive, keep our communities vibrant and the ability to show other business that this is a great place to locate. All you have to do is do some of your shopping locally, and by shopping locally you can ensure that our community has a very happy (and profitable) holiday season.

Don’t get mad, get busy.

Seems like, lately, there are a lot of people angry at the government. Pull up your facebook page and read the raging debate about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and you’ll see that all of your friends are spreading angry information about the issue from both sides. Open a newspaper and you’ll see that government recently became so angry at itself that it shut down. Turn on the news and let your blood boil over the fact that a cyber thief was able to get your personnel information from the state’s databases. Open your mail and see your tax bill or your utility bill. Angry yet?

I started to think about our attitudes towards government as a society, be it state, federal, county, school district, or city, as I drove back from a regional government meeting late one evening. In the dark, as I cruised over two lane roads that connect our community to our neighbors, I wondered if the disconnect between our communities and our government could ever be bridged. My thoughts were disturbed when, out of the darkness, the two way radio in my car crackled to  life. A car, probably somebody just trying to get home like I was, had gone of an embankment and our Public Safety personnel were mobilizing to try and find it. The citizen who called 911 had seen the crash, but wasn’t exactly sure where along the road that they happened to be.

It’s easy to dislike your government. You get your power bill and think “How can this possibly be so expensive?” You get your tax bill and think the same. Meanwhile, a fire truck screams through the night and your tax dollars are being spent on the diesel fuel to make it roll.

Whether you like the decisions government organizations make or not, your government – and it is your government (remember what Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address “government of the people, by the people, for the people”) – is working for you. Your neighbors are working hard for you all day, every day. They might be in a ditch working on a water line. They might be hanging from a light pole trying to get your power back on, or watching your street for you while you sleep, or sitting in an office trying to balance the rising costs of doing business with the desire to keep your utility rates and taxes as low as possible. They might be sliding down an embankment in the dark of the night towards and overturned car.

There are many difficult decisions that will face your city in the coming years. The face of our community has changed and will continue to change. We’ve got to decide what our city looks like years from now. What do our recreation program look like? What level of services do we provide? How do we address the rising costs of fuel, electricity, and utilities? How do we afford to repair our water and sewer systems before it is too late? How much can you, the citizen, afford to contribute financially towards the cost of providing government services through your tax payments and utility payments? Do you want your fire and rescue personnel to have all the tools they need to safely extract the injured person from an overturned car, or are you willing to gamble a bit and not buy the best equipment or replace the equipment as often as it needs replacing? Are you willing to buy the equipment at all? Do we pay for the city to become the city we want our children to inherit, or do we accept the city we are currently paying for – which is short of our dreams?

The answers to all those question depend on you, not some mystical secret society known as “the government” because you are the government. Your neighbors are working for you trying to create the city you want Clinton to be. You have the keys. You are in the driver’s seat. Don’t just get angry at government, but instead take the time to learn about the issues and make your opinion known. Don’t miss the key part of the previous statement. Learn about the issues. In the words of a famous politician, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Spreading misinformation, or assuming what you read on facebook, twitter, or heard in line at the grocery store is true and basing your views on it doesn’t do anything but hold the rest of us back. Those firefighters working at the bottom an embankment to save a life don’t need you holding them back, and your neighbor who is counting on them doesn’t need to be held back either.

As I pulled into my driveway, I listened to the calm voices of our firefighters as they communicated with a helicopter pilot from a Greenville area hospital. They are not strangers, they are your neighbors and they are just working hard to try to create the city that we all want to be proud to call home.