To 2009, good riddance

Published 9:38 am Saturday, January 2, 2010

Much has been written about the dismal decade that was the ’00s — from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Indian Ocean tsunami to Hurricane Katrina and a deep economic recession that tarried as the decade closed.

Locally, 2009 will be remembered singularly for its cruelty — from the tragic deaths of a promising young sheriff’s deputy on patrol and a bright-eyed child on an elementary school campus to the scandalous actions of a prominent, respected attorney to the sucker punch of them all: International Paper Co.’s announcement that it would shut down our anchor employer and rob our proud mill town of its economic identity.

To 2009, we bid a collective “good riddance” and embark on 2010 with hope and resiliency.

To those qualities, which have served Western Tidewater so well in the wake of other natural and economic disasters over the years, let’s resolve together to add this: a sense of urgency.

Phillip Bradshaw, at a pre-Christmas meeting of the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors, spoke the sentiment of many in the community when he urged his county’s economic developer to step up the pace of the response to the paper mill’s closure.

“I want to re-emphasize, you strike when the iron is hot,” Bradshaw said. “Right now this is a hot issue, and we need to be extremely aggressive. We need to press even harder than what we’re doing. We’ve got to take the lead because we’re suffering financially.”

In fairness to Lisa Perry, Isle of Wight’s energetic, well-spoken director of economic development, she is but one player in a cast of many who must step up their games in the year ahead.

In times of crisis, the spotlight shines most brightly, and not always fairly, on economic developers, who are paid and ultimately judged on their ability to create jobs – analogous to the major-college football coach who is admired for playing by the rules, for making his players go to class and for saying all the right things at alumni meetings but who, at the end of the season, better have won some games.

Even the best economic developers can’t do it alone, however.

Elected leadership must step up its efforts. This includes giving economic developers the tools they need to be successful but, as important, making the governments they lead more efficient and less taxing on the citizenry.

That means fewer piecemeal approaches on items like electricity rates, garbage fees, real estate assessments and property tax rates in favor of a comprehensive look at the financial burden that government imposes on those who fund it. Citizens and businesses have plenty to cope with economically without the additional burden of rising taxes and fees.

Consolidation of government services within and across logistical boundaries — the topic of much discussion over the years — must move from lip service to fruition, from long-range strategic plans to short-term action. Petty turf battles — and concern about which politician gets the credit — must end.

Citizens too have a huge role to play in the economic recovery. The need for community service has never been greater. Even as financial contributions become harder to make, people can give generously of their time and talents to churches, charities and civic organizations.

Non-government institutions are not exempt from responsibility. At this newspaper, we’ve devoted a number of internal meetings to our own important role. Already, we’ve assigned our most seasoned reporter, Charlie Passut, to full-time coverage of the economic recovery, asking other staff members to fill big voids on beats formerly worked by Charlie.

At every turn, we will be assessing our effectiveness as a source of reliable information for our readers, as a “fourth estate” that holds community leadership accountable and as an opinion shaper that strikes the proper balance between optimism and realism.

We invite your input as we work hard with others in the community to make 2010 a year of restoration and progress — and 2009 a distant memory.