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Land Deal Signals Commission Missing that Consistency is Key

Consistency is an elusive concept. We want our representatives to be open to new information, and the best officials are able to move off deeply held beliefs when evidence is contrary to them. But there is an expectation of consistency as well.

A previous Concurrent column talked about the many different forms of biases beyond confirmation bias, which has become a catch all claim of the pseudo-intellectual, and one of these is the consistency bias. We tend to think that our own viewpoint is unchanged overtime when in fact many people’s views shift either subtly or intensely - oftentimes without them even knowing.

I have now written over 120 opinion columns for the Concurrent since it began. Consistency needs to be part of that as well in order to build credibility with the readers who know I believe in what I claim. If I moved off a topic quickly or changed my mind often, it would be difficult to take any assertion I make after that seriously.

One concept that I have been repeating for about seven months is that the county commission is oblivious to the detrimental damage their behavior does to any chance of getting the sales tax increase that the majority of the board wants passed.

Though I am still against the idea, some of the arguments for it warrant serious consideration when made logically such as a half cent over a full cent, a four-year sunset and lock tight legal provisions that the revenue raised goes solely to roads. The public, though, isn’t going to make the decision logically. They vote how they feel.

People don’t feel like the commission is being a good steward of the taxpayer dollar. This is expressed in the extreme when false accusations are made that the board uses their position to line their own pockets. This hypersensitivity to any perceived wrongdoing has the public on high alert for any shred of evidence that validates this belief, which is confirmation bias.

Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach served the people who have been making these false claims a gift when she agreed to a land purchase with an incentive bonus that pushed it above market value that will be approved in Tuesday’s meeting.

If this deal is approved, the sales tax increase won’t pass. Plain and simple. It will drain any remaining public trust in the commission’s ability to allocate funds and the voters won’t approve raising revenues.

Inconsistency lies at the heart of the issue. For months, the board explored the purchase of the Pirates Cove property in Ozello. The county made an offer at market value, and when the price was rejected without counter, the board then made an argument that the seller should consider that the lower market value amount is in the county’s best interest as a public service.

This “we’re all in this together” mentality when discussing other people’s projects but accepting about $70,000 over market value for property when it is your own land is blatant hypocrisy that destroys public trust.

Commissioner Schlabach campaigned at times joking that she didn’t even know county commission was a paid position when she began seeking the job and vowed to donate half her salary back to the community. Not only has this not happened, but now she has negotiated an above-market bonus of an entire year’s worth of salary for the property sale.

Consistency is something I’ve worried about with these columns. Oftentimes in the past I have started writing similar projects only to stop weeks later. I called these previous efforts Brace for Impact.

My best Brace for Impact entry predicted that Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee for president on the day the Democratic field expanded to 20 candidates with the entrance of Pete Buttigieg because it was also the day Tiger Woods won the Masters in 2019.

Biden was not even a candidate himself yet, but I said that the redemption story that draws people to love Tiger would also work for Biden. The connection is emotional, not logical based on candidate positions. Our county commission badly needs to understand this to keep from perpetuating behaviors that hurt their overall goals.

After Tuesday, though, it will likely be too late to recover until two new members change the conversation this November.

Woods fell apart yesterday at the Masters when his consistency ran out after a strong start. The same will happen to the commission after Tuesday.


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