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July 20, 2011

A Bridge Too Far?

Norman M. Covert

Lots of folks applaud the hit-the-ground-running actions of our new Board of County Commissioners. To some, however, it is evident their “mandate” is wearing thin with the apparent rush to privatize county services. They need to slow down; they have four years to right the ship of state.


The board has felt our love – and it was there – but new evidence indicates the honeymoon may be over. Good intentions do not trump the need for a measured approach to any change that affects so many good county employees.


President Blaine Young and the other board members have been hell bent for leather cutting costs, excising social agencies that should not have been on the dole and studying “what if” the possibility of contracting out these county services.


Attaboys include fixing the zoning messes and reversing the devastating “no development” attitudes of the previous two boards. They may indeed make us a more business friendly county and the budgetary crisis seems averted, at least for the short term.


Blaine and the Board (sounds like a rock-n-roll band) have been on a roll, but again there is that “but” in which we opine the cost cutting may bite us in the rear when we least expect it.


The bogeyman for them may be that so-called PPP Associates study offered by Oliver Porter. Someone smart described it as a gross generalization from a consultant who put together a report Blaine and the Board wanted to hear.


When local activist and attorney Barry Kissin says the study is long on promises and short on substance, you have to believe him. His reputation as a radical on many subjects does not sully his talent and intelligence. He reads the fine print looking for conspiracy and says it was not difficult to find the study wanting, yet seems to have snookered Blaine and the Board.


“Go slowly,” cautioned Commissioner C. Paul Smith – and Commissioner David Gray. These commissioners may both be Republican, but are at opposite ideological poles.


Critics of public-private partnerships have not been solely the sour grapes crowd of the ideological left. Many on the right, Blaine and the Board’s supporters, cannot seem to convince the county fathers to read the PPP Associates report again without their agenda blinding them.


One critic of public-private partnerships noted the huge differences in that little Georgia community of Sandy Springs and Frederick. Blaine and the Board seem smitten by what they saw. It must have been a real schmooze job put on by the consultant and local pols, who surely love what they have done.


I’ve been to Georgia and I can tell you, Frederick is a world apart. You should not compare Georgia Peaches to Catoctin Mountain Orchard’s fruit. Georgia’s mostly agri-business economy is suffering in America’s current depression. It hardly compares to our solid economic base centered on Fort Detrick and the multi-million dollar bio-medical industry.


The PPP Associates study, the good old boy might opine, would seem to be a dog that won’t hunt.


I am struck by the similarities of this dilemma to British Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery and his zeal to launch his World War II “Operation Market-Garden.” Showing his prima donna face, he ignored intelligence reports in lieu of possible glory in a victorious outcome. He suppressed the realities of his opponent’s strength and position in Arnhem, Holland, which offered a bridge leading to the industrial section of Germany.


It might have been a tumultuous victory, but ultimately the September 1944 battle was lost almost as it began, incurring unacceptable losses in men and equipment. It was simply disastrous. Military historian/author Cornelius Ryan was succinct in his comprehensive volume, naming it “A Bridge Too Far.”


Come on Blaine and the Board, step back and read the “intelligence.” Don’t let the PPP Associates report be your “Bridge Too Far.” Clear thinking will help you win this battle.


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