Bogged in a swamp

Bogged in a swamp
Robert Bacal, a noted author, keynote speaker, and management consultant, notes that "When change is imposed (as in Vermillion dealing with Crawford Road), clearly the most important determinant of 'getting through the swamp' is the ability of leadership to ? well, lead."

That's why we are extremely disappointed with Mayor Dan Christopherson and members of the Vermillion City Council who have decided that, somehow, a very, very small number of citizens can chart the future course of our community for years to come.

What the mayor and some aldermen are forgetting is that the nature of change is secondary to the perceptions that Vermillion citizens now have regarding the ability, competence and credibility of our leaders.

People who don't want to see Crawford Road linked with Burbank Road will probably tell you they believe they think the city council did the right thing.

There's just one problem. At best, and we're being generous with our estimate, those people represent less than 6 percent of the registered voters in Vermillion.

There were about 60 people in opposition to Crawford at March 20's council meeting. That's about 1 percent of the city's registered voters. Throw in the 271 signatures they said they had collected from citizens opposing the additional lengthening of the street, and the opposition climbs to 5.6 percent of registered voters.

Let's review a partial list of those who favor linking Crawford Road to Burbank Road: Uteig Engineering, a professional firm that completed a transportation study of the city, held public meetings and met with the city's planning commission; the drafters of Vermillion's Comprehensive Plan, which, beginning in 1965, listed the completion of the Crawford link as a number one priority street improvement project; the city planning commission, which studied four alternatives before recommending March 20 that Crawford Road be extended; and everyone associated in any way with the Countryside Addition housing development located south of The Bluffs Golf Course on Burbank Road.

The mayor's reasoning for opposing the Crawford extension? "I think it's important that we support our boards, commissions and staff, but I think ultimately, it's important that we support the people and the voters," Christopherson said March 20. "Whenever I've listened to the people, it's overwhelming that they don't want this road."

It became apparent at April 3's city council meeting that the mayor's hearing is very selective. He heard from property owners, parents, business owners, a representative of the local Chamber of Commerce and Development Company, the city's highly qualified former engineer and people who are or have been involved with Vermillion's planning commission.

Perhaps they heard the mayor say at the March 20 meeting that he would listen and they believed him. They believed talking to the mayor and the council would make a difference.

The mayor didn't listen, however. He dismissed the statements made by Crawford supporters, not with a professional study by an engineering firm or the written minutes of a planning commission, but rather with a hearsay statement that the number of phone calls he has received against Crawford total twice as many as those who support the street project.

In cities where there is faith in local government, citizens should expect their city councils to be capable of accomplishing a number of things with the help of professional staff. City residents should expect effective and sensible planning, confident and effective decision-making, and strong communication.

All citizens, and the emphasis here is on the word all, also should be able to perceive leadership as supportive, concerned and committed to their welfare, while at the same time recognizing that tough decisions need to be made.

The Crawford Road issue is demonstrating that our mayor and other elected city leaders have forgotten many of the things we expect the most. That's poor leadership.

Cities with poor leadership are characterized by a climate of distrust, in which citizens learn that leaders will act in indecipherable ways that seem to be oin the best interest of a select few.

We are headed toward such a situation. Some, in fact, may argue that we are already there � we have reached a point where most Vermillion citizens likely have no faith in our local government or in the ability of elected officials.

Citizens will have to take on a crucial leadership role themselves by referring the Crawford issue to a public vote. We're disappointed that it's come to this. The city council was elected to plan for the future and conduct our community's business.

Instead, as Bacal might say, we've become bogged in a swamp.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at

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