COLUMN: Balance must be struck with economic development, government

There’s a balance to be struck between “giving it a chance” and accountability.

It falls into the same category as skepticism and optimism. Being optimistic about the outcome of an event is one thing. Remaining objective enough to know when to move on is another. This balance pertains to many parts of life … and to politics.

Objectivity must be the driving force behind policy.

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Geneva City Manager Matt Horn. He is tasked with executing the wishes of elected officials, but as part of his job, he must remain objective enough to call things as they are when necessary.

Beyond the day-to-day management and running of the city, Horn serves as a check-and-balance that puts execution at the forefront of every discussion and decision. Ideas are great, but if those ideas are unrealistic and don’t accompany a plan, they will never be anything more than an idea.

It prevents waste.

Not just waste of resources such as money but waste of time, energy and precious community support.

Throughout the region it’s easy to spot communities suffering from “community support drain.”

It’s the understanding that the community will not support or believe ideas — if they continually fall short of expectation or promise.

It doesn’t take long for a community to become “too tired” to objectively care about every promise of rehabilitation or growth. This has become as serious a roadblock for economic development as high taxes or the Governor.

It’s a pretty simple process:

• Take an idea from concept to reality via a strong plan;

• Get the community excited about the plan along the way;

• Celebrate the success publicly;

• And quickly move on to the next exciting project and/or development.

It is the bare bones philosophy that has been employed in Geneva — harnessing the positives that the region has. Others could benefit from having this kind of leadership and drive.

It’s difficult to recruit. It’s expensive. But there are long-term benefits that come with understanding how to play the game. Is every official in Geneva a fan and supporter of Gov. Cuomo?

I don’t know, but I don’t think so.

But, Geneva has figured out that you don’t have to like the game to play it, to be successful and to even collect a few wins as result.

The reason why wins must be built upon is simple. People are smart. Ask those blue- collar workers that every elected official in rural New York likes to harness during election season. They have seen the games. They have heard the promises. Many of them are still optimistic, but when leaders go dark for extended periods of time — while projects and developments seemingly sit on the back burner — it promotes uncertainty.

The moment a project fails or falls through, the reaction is almost universal: “That’s why no one said anything about it, because it was going to fail all along.”

I’ve said it before in this column. As I write this one it’s worth repeating: You cannot expect a part-time elected official to serve as sounding board, elected official, manager, and messenger.

There needs to be a structure in every community to ensure the above process can play out. Some communities in the area are fortunate enough to have talented employees, managers, and elected officials. Others haven’t been as fortunate.

Gov. Cuomo has spent the last several years promoting regional cooperation, shared services, and … well, anything else that might look appealing on a campaign flier.

Instead of asking the region to collectively continue doing more with less, despite Albany’s unwillingness to adhere to the same philosophy, Gov. Cuomo could provide communities the resources to grow.

Not a one-time, $10 million prize but the funding for the community to execute a strong game plan from start to finish.

Remember the proverb about teaching a man to fish instead of handing him one? “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

The hardworking, blue collar folks of this region don’t want another fish. They are smart, objective, and still optimistic people. They don’t care why things haven’t worked in the past. They only want to know why things will work in the future.

This column was originally published in the Finger Lakes Times. Read more here.

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