No need to read between lines of Thrive organizers’ statements
By David Tulis
Hamilton Countians are being stirred to higher things by a three-year government-funded program that is telling back to them what they want to hear about life in Chattanooga and suggesting that its agenda of integration and combination is the best way to bring refreshment about (Part I of this essay). Neat thing is, Thrive 2055 is not just another government program. It’s public-private. It’s got the energy of the private sector and the seriousness of the government community. To win support for Thrive 2055, program organizers come across as living in a world where phones are rare, documents have to be shipped by first-class U.S. mail, e-mails have yet to arrive on the scene and distances are vast as the steppes of Russia. With help of the program, officials will more easily be able to pick up telephone receivers and talk to other officials. Coordinate. Get together. Write new grants to Washington for cash. Find efficiencies.
Thrive 2055 and its underlying United Nations agenda (not mentioned publicly unless stabbed into notice by a tea party activist such as Mark West) is about consolidating the operations of commercial government. It gives lip service to the free market, free enterprise and property rights.
Lead Hamilton County planner — gaps in the free market
John Bridger is executive director of the Hamilton County regional planning agency. Its principal is county government. Mr. Bridger’s interview points out that government agencies are actors in Thrive 2055 and have an interest in it. His view about state, private and public-private alliances is pragmatic, there not being any moral or jurisdictional principle violated by “public-private” or hybrid partnerships that have the face of a neighbor but are at heart governmental. I open our chat asking if his group is contributing to the night’s festivities at the public library downtown.
John Bridger. I think a lot of staffs are involved. Staffs of county agencies, chamber, RPA [regional planning agency], it’s part of pulling together resources which is what Chattanooga does. *** We’re trying to get input from abroad section of the community, so we want to be sure we have staff on hand to help that process along.
David Tulis. In your perspective, is your event in favor of the free market, or does the free market need to be herded by people who are planners and civil engineers.
John Bridger. The free market is the foundation of our society. So I think you always start there. But, like anything, you need things like good roads that the market doesn’t provide. That’s a public service. Schools. You look carefully at those things; what’s the value provided in those things? That’s why I think it’s always good to have within your local governance, with your elected officials, that you make informed decisions about the kind of services you provide. To help inform that, that’s why we need the public here to figure out what they value.
Not only what they value, but how those things are addressed. Because not everything has to be done by the public sector. In fact, I think we should always look first, how can the private sector — what opportunities are there for the private sector to do their own mechanics of what they do to help provide that. Then there’s public-private partnerships. And then there is the government. So I think you look at all three things, knowing what they do well, and knowing what they don’t do well to work on things that the community agrees are important.
David. In the public private partnership, does the public always lead?
John Bridger. No. I think that, I mean, it’s clear it’s public-private, I mean there’s some kind of public role. But depending on how that public-private partnership is structured. I would say in the example of this process, actually, it’s pretty diverse. You have your philanthropic community. You’ve got public sector community and the private sector probably working together equally on this project because I think each have importance in terms of how we think about making our community more successful.
David. Thank you, John.
Thrive 2055 chairman — public brainstorm helps planners
My interview with this top official makes several useful points. A highway widening is something occurring at a glacial pace. But in his time-lapse photography that speeds up events and overdramatizes them, Brian Anderson suggests an urgent need for more planning, further integration away from older concepts such as the county, which has feudal origins. He reveals that, to understand Thrive 2055, one must follow the money. Centralization of identity and purpose is about federal money. In Mr. Anderson’s perspective, government is ubiquitous, the controlling paradigm. The public is hostile and indifferent to it, he admits, backing my notion civil government in the welfare state is exhausting its capital of public good will. I ask if Thrive 2055 is a centralization of local governmental function to account for federal money. “That’s right,” he says. But he says Thrive 2055 is not regional government and has not the power of the vote as do elected officials.
Mr. Anderson is president of the Dalton/Whitfield Chamber of Commerce and a spokesman for the event and chairman of the coordinating committee of Thrive 2055, with 33 people on board, including planners, farmers, business people.
David. What’s the goal tonight with all these people?
Brian Anderson. The goal of the week — this is our third of four [events] — is to get as much public input as possible from people who don’t have a formal role. The whole process is built on grassroots, public engagement. The mom or the dad or the uncle or the public transportation driver, everybody that says, “I love where I live, is what I’m passionate about, and here’s what I want to see going on.” So it’s about sharing some information that we’ve gotten through multiple data sources, from census bureau, to Sim Center information, Ochs Center — taking that and putting into — OK, let’s present some information to you, this is what’s happening, get a reaction to it. Or it could be, “Hey, I don’t want to hear any of that. I’m going to tell you, hey, I’m excited about — or upset about — education, or energy policy,” or whatever. We’re capturing all that. We’re trying to make sense of what’s on the minds of people who live in this region.
Better relationships among officials
David. Why do you have to do that? Why cannot the free market handle this task?
Brian Anderson. I don’t know of a free market function that does this in the sense of what ways do all of us as everyday citizens get to plug into the process? Or, as the everyday process that is available, why are people checking out of it? I [am] a former county commissioner, never had more than five or six people in the audience. So we made multimillion dollar decisions on our best estimate, hoping we represented our citizens. But people are getting kind of getting turned off on politics as usual; the world doesn’t operate in some of the political jurisdictions that we currently have, meaning, we’ve got two MPOs [metropolitan planning organization], the Chattanooga MPO or the Dalton MPO charged with transportation planning that don’t talk to each other. I-75 doesn’t stop where that line ends of authority, and the next one. So we hope with this process, we’re not creating any kind of governing body. But can we encourage those two to establish a formative relationship and say, “Hey, when I-75 has got be widened, or put in a hot lane, which is a hot discussion in Atlanta, who is going to make that decision, how do you do it across a multijurisdictional boundary?”
David. Isn’t that a federal jurisdiction question and not a county jurisdiction?
Brian Anderson. Federal is one of the partners, but there’s heavy influence on the state level and the county level within transportation planning. So, it’s an interstate highway, which is a federal property, but they make no decision without working through GDot, TDot, ADot and the local government. *** The metropolitan planning organization in Dalton, it looks at about three, two counties. But it doesn’t talk to its neighbor. So, how do you say you’re getting the best transportation input when they act like I-75 stops.
Taking control of change, directing it to keep ‘quality of life’
David. Is there an interest in reducing the value of county government by having a regional government. Is this a step in that direction.
Brian Anderson. No, there is no regional government envisioned. There is no regional government process. The regional is only in this bringing people together who live in a certain geography. There is no authoritative power, there is no legal jurisdiction. This is simply common citizens who have a vested interest and say, “You know, growth and change is already occurring. We can sit back and see what it does to us, kinda of what happened in the ’70s and ’80s when Chattanooga became an environmental nightmare.
Or, we can say, we want quality of life, quality of growth, and we want good things to happen, and let’s minimize any detrimental [indecipherable] if we can. Now there could be, no matter what benchmarks or success stories that may come out of this brainstorming which is a good way of thinking about it — every jurisdiction, city or county, or multiple counties [could] say, “You know what? I am happy with the way things are.” This is a very passive process because multiple people can check in, or out, depending on where on their interest level. But there is no — giving no authority, there’s no ability to make things happen, either.
Making best use of federal dollars underlies agenda; no centralization seen
David. So this is not aiming toward centralization of administration or public purpose?
Brian Anderson. Absolutely not. Never envisioned.
David. Well, how is it, then, in the interest of decentralization?
Brian Anderson. Say that again; I’m not sure of what you mean.
David. The effort here is not in centralizing functions across state boundaries and across county boundaries. It’s about decentralization then? Which direction are we going?
Brian Anderson. I’d reframe it this way. I am part of a regional governing commission in North Georgia created by state law so that federal funds that come for the elderly or the aging programs, or federal funds for workforce development, come down to the state, and the state state says, OK — pushes it down to these regions. So we have regional governments already to a degree. Millions of dollars are impacted in that regard. The 15 counties that make up that region in that regard really have very little in common. What happens in Rome is not necessarily what’s happening in Jasper or Ellajay. So I would say to you that you have to have ways of organizing, ways to make sure communities are able to do the best work they can do, but I think that is part of the problem is, the money: So much of the federal and state, it’s not getting down to where it can be held. Why couldn’t we say local governments do the best for their citizens? [Italics supplied]
David. So 2055 is really about centralizing the function to use federal money. This is on account of federal money.
Fed-up electorate open to new way of taking part in ‘best practice’ government
Brian Anderson. That’s right. There’s no money in it to be redirected. There’s some money been raised to pay for the  process, but at the end of this, we would hope that there would be a project that would make some sense. [Mr. Anderson gives an example of a student getting technical training and able to work either in Tennessee or Georgia.] Let’s make sure that kid has all the chances in the world, they’re adequately trained, with money we are already spending. I’d like to see that at the end of the day we do a better job in taking every dollar we are already paying in taxes and we get a better return on it. We also get better engagement from our citizens, who I feel right now are checked out. They’re fed up. They feel like nobody cares. That’s why Congress has a 12 percent or 10 percent approval rating. At the state level, it’s being driven by lobbyists, or controlled in very tight leadership circles. I’d like to see that everyday citizens like me and you could just say, “You know what, I put a dollar into this, and I got good returns, I’m happy with it. I’m happy with my school system. Or I’m happy with my road planning.”
*** So all this is about learning from each other. If we can share a best practice, it might make your life or my life better because we did something right. But you know what, if you tell the idea, or if you’re in Cleveland-Bradley county, and you say, “You know what, I love what Dalton’s doing; ya’ll have a nice day; I don’t want to do any of that, we’re just fine.” That can happen, too.
Problems with existing boundaries that get in the way
There are no implementation dollars, planned envisioned or on hand to make anything happen. All we can do is produce ideas and-or conversations about “We might be able to share, or identify things that are working well in one or two areas, it could be replicated.”
Last night somebody said, “You just want to make everybody look the same.” No. That’s the beauty of it. It’s diversified. But you know what? We’re all going to go to work. We’re all going to drink water, and we want it to be good, clean water. We’re all going to raise our kids in some kind of school system. Why do we have to arbitrarily be divided into these sub-boundaries and we never talk to each other. I am happy that my county commission is going to make all the decisions about what gets implemented. And I might could have a better, more articulate conversation with them because of what we learn in this process. But they’re not going to do anything because Thrive calls them and says, “You must enact this.” It ain’t going to happen. ***
David. Brian, thank you very much.
Please read Part III of this essay, which offers organizers’ statements in full to give a glimpse into their manner of thinking; no need to read between the lines, just read the lines. — DJT