• Last modified 467 days ago (Jan. 11, 2018)


Getting back to murky

When I was a kid growing up on the east bank of Mud Creek in Marion (and yes, to the kids it was Mud, not Luta), floods were things of wonder.

I would run down the hill behind the house to see rising waters consuming my favorite play space among the trees. I loved tagging along with my dad to the Main St. bridge to watch silted milk-chocolate floodwater make the measuring pole slowly disappear. Seeing rowboats downtown was the best.

The waters always subsided; Mud Creek always returned to its customary murky olive green, and all was right again with the world.

It wasn’t until I got older that I began to appreciate just how horrid floods can be. When 100-year floods hit the St. Louis area in the early 1990s, the nights I spent filling sandbags weren’t fun; they were a race against impending disaster.

We’ve had raging floods in the county commission and economic development for months, it seems. Developments Monday hold at least some potential those opaque floodwaters may begin to recede, at least back to mere murkiness.

Settling of controversial silt looks most promising with economic development.

Communication and direction have been muddled messes for months as Marion County Community Economic Development Corporation board members tried to make everyone happy as cities squabbled over who could represent them. Peabody balked at changes wanted by Marion and Hillsboro and withheld its money. When proposed changes were scuttled, Marion and Hillsboro squawked. Prospective board members accepted, then resigned.

Two new members joined the board Monday, and the last three original members resigned, three months later than planned. Their contributions were essential for maintaining some semblance of movement, but now that seven of 11 board positions are filled, it’s time for the new board to fly on its own.

They’ll do so with Hillsboro economic development director Anthony Roy on board as interim director. Roy will provide much needed organizational and administrative support as the group looks for a permanent executive director.

It remains to be seen if the board has answered Marion’s questions well enough for the city to start paying on its $44,500 commitment, but Hillsboro, Peabody, and the county are now on board.

Waters are clearing a bit but remain murky when considering the biggest question of all: Is this approach going to work to bring jobs and prosperity to the county? Will the group focus on reasonable, attainable goals or chase pipe dreams?

The group remains a mere concept for now, one with a stronger framework than six months ago, but still untested and unproved. It’s going to be a while before the murkiness clears.

Floods are an apt descriptor for what’s been going on with county commission since two new commissioners came on board last year.

Playing tug of war over everything from ambulance overtime budgets to drywall and paneling, commissioners Randy Dallke, Dianne Novak, and Kent Becker appear to prefer roller coasters to smooth sailing.

The transition of EMS to full-time personnel and rebuilding 330th Rd. are a couple of notable feathers in their caps, but they have been overshadowed by ongoing conflict.

Most notable among the problems has been the county lake, where two lake superintendents have been chewed up and spit out in just six months. Allegations of mismanagement, neglect, micromanagement, and favoritism have plagued both commission and lake patrons alike.

The commission’s vote Monday to involve Kansas State University classes in creating a long-term development plan for the lake isn’t a solution in itself, but it’s a start. As long as the process serves all lake users and not just those who own houses surrounding the county-owned lake, the tempest could subside for the time being.

We wish we had a crystal ball to know how the commission will move ahead with Dianne Novak as its chairman. Where commissioners sit surely can make a difference in how they operate.

In my own direct experience, the best example of that was when Roger Fleming slid into the chairman’s seat between Dallke and Dan Holub. Fleming had a knack for knowing how far to let conversations go, and for taking opposing views and finding middle ground. That commission functioned better than any under his successors.

Novak campaigned as a maverick, and she’s worked to bring that perspective to the commission. We’ve taken her to task for some of her methods and choices, including last week over the fiasco of replacing Jeff Bina on the planning commission. But we’ve also noted that she’s a strong advocate for her ideas and is diligent about seeking information to make informed decisions.

Consultants didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know when they said commissioners need to learn to work together productively. We’ve seen enough this past year to know that’s true.

Is Novak up to the task of leading in a manner that fosters good communication, respect, and mutual decision-making? Will her fellow commissioners give her the chance to do so?

That’s a stream with a milk-chocolate flow right now. We’d be happy for murky. Perhaps the best we can do right now is to fill some sandbags and do what we used to do at the bridge: stand by watching and hoping and praying that the flood goes down before anyone drowns.

— david colburn

Last modified Jan. 11, 2018