A better use of time

Published 11:04 am Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rather than waste another year of time and energy trying to change the city charter ­— and encourage more political posturing in a city whose citizens prefer results over showmanship — the Franklin City Council needs to quickly change its priorities.

At best, the charter tinkering rejected by the Virginia General Assembly would engineer a few short-term political outcomes that might be beneficial. Well-intentioned as the drafters may be, there’s no guarantee that the amended charter would fix what ails City Hall. At worst, the onerous, divisive process of getting it changed will divert the council from work that matters.

Such as:

A serious discussion about whether the city’s charter should be surrendered rather than rewritten.

It speaks to the void of forward-thinking elected leadership in Franklin and Southampton County that Franklin Southampton Futures, an organization of civic and business leaders founded on the need for the neighboring localities to begin functioning as one, recently conceded defeat, opting to disband rather than continue to fight a losing battle.

It was, by any measure, the wrong decision, but it’s hard to blame Futures for throwing in the towel in frustration. Other than lip service, the group got zero support from the elected leaders of Franklin and Southampton County, who haven’t lifted a finger to explore how government services might be delivered more effectively and less expensively by working together.

The occasion of Franklin’s 50th anniversary as an independent city — to be celebrated, with appropriate fanfare, at a gala event next weekend — is the perfect time to ponder the next 50 years and how to make “One Economy, One Future” — the words that inspired the creation of Franklin Southampton Futures seven years ago — more than a slogan.

Franklin’s had a great run as an independent city. The logic of city fathers in the early 1960s was reasonable for the era in which they governed. They couldn’t have foreseen what now confronts us: two hugely expensive, unsustainable government bureaucracies serving a small community of common interests, divided only by artificial electoral boundaries and a few old grudges.

Recognizing and adjusting to the new realities will require bold, statesmanlike leadership — not unlike what Franklin leaders sincerely believed they were providing in 1961. They had a vision of a vibrant community. Those involved in creating the future of Franklin-Southampton should be no less optimistic. Working together, Franklin and Southampton can flourish.

It will be tough, time-consuming work. Those engaged in it won’t have time to burn up the roads to Richmond, trying to convince skeptical state lawmakers that city government’s engine needs a mere tune-up when it’s time for an overhaul.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.