Earlier this month, a letter from the CEO Roundtable, a group of area business, non profit and educational leaders, was sent to elected officials in Fulton and Montgomery counties, including those in the City of Amsterdam. The letter admonished elected officials for their public conduct, warning them that they could be scaring off potential investors.
Recently, it has been reported in the media that elected officials in the City of Amsterdam, City of Gloversville, Town of Johnstown and others have engaged in the exact types of public interactions that Mike Mullis and regional developers have advised create a negative environment, present a poor image and discourage business from investing in the community. Name calling, arguing, personal attacks and making decisions based upon personalities rather than data, is not the type of governance that this regions needs or desires. It is an embarrassment. Businesses and developers say that they don’t want to be part of a community that includes such a negative environment.
The CEO Roundtable respectfully asks all local elected officials to have fruitful and data-driven discussions about the very complex issues facing local municipalities. Govern in a professional manner and create a positive image of a community that developers would prefer to invest in instead of avoiding.
I certainly cannot disagree with this advice. Although I have not heard any blatant name calling so far this year, various members of city government have cast aspersions on one another. Certain discussions have involved hearsay that turned out to be inaccurate and I don’t think the political offensive being waged by the common council has helped the city one bit.
But the letter comes across as to me as patronizing and I don’t think that this “wet noodle” attempt at public shaming is going to make much difference. The colorful personalities of our city government were just as colorful at last Tuesday’s meeting as they have ever been.
Let’s be honest – petty arguing and political battles is a given for almost any local government anywhere. One could criticize the state and national legislatures for the very same problem. I’m not saying we should accept it. We should always hold our elected leaders to the highest standards. But every locality has their petty issues, we’re not alone.
The CEO Roundtable’s advice for officials to have data-driven discussions about issues is a great idea. But so far, I have not seen them set the example themselves. The public activities of their members seem to consist of writing articles for the local paper (which also happens to be a member of the CEO Roundtable), preaching the virtues of consolidation and “regional thinking” while actively discouraging local efforts at marketing and revitalization by calling them archaic and ineffective ideas. They do this while relying 100% on anecdotal evidence and without offering one shred of actual “data” to support their arguments. Their views are clearly outdated in light of reports (such as this one and this one) that show growth in cities is now the leading economic trend. In retrospect, most of the “regional thinking” hype coming from this group over the past year or so was to lay groundwork for the “Swangertown” development at FMCC and for the casino and resort project.
Local business leaders would do well to look at our neighbors to the east and west for examples of how they could actually make a positive impact on economic development in the region. In Schenectady, we have the Metroplex Development Authority which is one of the driving forces behind the massive revitalization projects underway in their downtown area. Board members include a combination of public officials and local business leaders such as Dan Golub, Executive Chairman of Price Chopper. In Ballston Spa, you have the Business and Professional Association which serves as a mini “Chamber of Commerce” for the village, but also goes further to sponsor arts and other cultural events that enrich their downtown. Clearly, both our neighbors have not bought in to the idea that “regional thinking” is the “only way.” In both Schenectady and Saratoga counties, it seems downtown is viewed as a core driver of regional economic development, not an afterthought.
Business leaders who truly care about the economic development of the region should start doing more than just writing letters. They should start using their influence and resources in tangible ways to help forge a real, comprehensive vision for economic progress that includes both regional and localized projects. Then – just maybe – our local elected officials might have more on their plate to concern themselves with rather than bickering over trivial matters.