I’ll never forget that warm September morning as I headed off to work when my cell phone rang with a call from my county mayor. As I answered the call and heard him identify himself, all kinds of thoughts ran through my mind, but none of them prepared me for the question he was about to ask me. Considering myself an above average county citizen, paying my taxes on time but not extremely early or anything, I wondered what in the world I had done wrong to deserve a call from the county’s cheif executive.
After exchanging pleasantries, we immediately got down to business with him asking me to serve as a commissioner on our county’s planning commission. With that question, I really did wonder what I had done to deserve the call, but for some reason my mouth reacted with an answer of “yes” before my brain realized what it was doing. And, why shouldn’t it? For years I have preached the importance of citizens getting involved in their local governments and doing the right thing for the good of all citizens. Just like some preaching that I have heard from pulpits, it is easy to point fingers at someone else, but when it comes your time to do the right thing, there are those excuses of why you are too busy, or now is not the right time. That September day I guess the time had become right for me, and I needed to practice what I preached.
Believe me, I stepped off into a citizenry job that many, if not most, folks would run from as fast as they could. Having to decide future development and usage sites for a growing county and taking on the responsibility of being right or wrong for what may happen in the lives of people for the next several years is challenging to say the least. But, I look at it as a repayment to a county my ancestors traveled to over 225 years ago, that I might help make it a little bit better for the next several generations to live and make their homes just like I did.
We are now facing a challenge of zoning planning to carry the county into the year 2035. To some people that is a long time off, but to those like myself, I see it as a date that I want to get right for my grandchildren. Just looking ahead at what water and garbage needs will be is mind-boggling, but we do know that protecting open space and rural areas are very important along with providing adequate development for those who will continue to arrive into our county.
The thing that surprises me the most is how little public interest we really have from the thousands of people who live in the county about a zoning plan that will affect them for years to come. Public meetings have been held by the steering committee that has spent hours to design the plan, but the numbers of attendees from the communities has been minimal at best. I’m sure when the final vote is taken to approve the plan, there will be those who will voice their opinion who never made a meeting. So many times we leave things up to others, and if we are not careful, we get just what we deserve.
Sometimes you just have to voice your opinion, and public hearings are a good place to do just that. So often we feel that our opinion is not worth a lot, but it is when it pertains to the future of a county, a state and your country. Too many of us go about our every day lives not becoming involved in what makes this country work. A simple public hearing can mean the difference in what is right for all the people rather than what benefits just a few.
I guess I have jumped into the creek with both feet by saying “yes” that September day, and would like more of you to join me in the swim. When asked when life begins, my good friend Johnny Rickman from over in Tullahoma says it starts when the kids move out and the old dog dies. Well, maybe so, but for me it has livened up a bit by volunteering for the planning commission.
– Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com