Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jefferson County Public Being Railroaded

If one reads the "Letters to the Editor" section of the Jefferson County Standard Banner, it quickly becomes apparent that citizen opposition to the proposed Norfolk Southern inter-modal rail facility is widespread and vocal. It doesn't seem to be heavily organized, but there is little doubt at this point that it is going to impact next year's May and August primaries and local election in Jefferson County.

The problem that most local folks seem to have with the inter-modal proposal is the secrecy with which it is being rammed down the throats of the general public. At least one member of the Jefferson County Industrial Development Board has seen Norfolk Southern's plans and was made to sign a confidentiality agreement. Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmeiri is also strangely mum-lipped about an issue that will impact our county for decades, and perhaps generations to come.

Confidentiality agreements about public matters-and rest assured, this is a public matter-are not only bad government, they violate both the Tennessee Open Meetings Act and the Open Records Act. The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce seems to be complicit in the conspiracy to hide information about the railroad's proposal from the public because they say it will bring the county needed jobs. Norfolk Southern has laid off a lot of people over the last 2-3 years, and union rules require that if this facility does become a reality, those laid off union workers will be the first people who get the call. There is certainly no guarantee that these people will be Jefferson County residents who live and pay property taxes here, and the experiences of other counties with similar facilities seem to indicate that surrounding counties may benefit more than Jefferson County will.

If the inter-modal is good for the county, it should not be something that is shrouded in secrecy and backroom dealing. People have never been given a clear presentation of the pros and cons for our community. The conduct of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce in this entire affair is a demonstration of why I have never been a blind political follower of chambers of commerce. The Chamber as a body (as opposed to individual members) is out for what seems to be good for the Chamber, not what may be good for the county as a whole. The attitude of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce seems to be that if the Chamber likes something, it is good for the rest of us. I would humbly submit that this mentality not only lacks in civic-mindedness, it also may not be best for business. The Chamber is behaving in a way that is extremely short-sighted and is failing in its larger role to see to the county's best public interest.

The railroad might be viewed more favorably without the perception that the public are being railroaded.



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