It doesn't matter what the election, voting with your emotions on your sleeve can be dangerous. Voter remorse sets in quickly and before you know it, the person or issue that you steadfastly supported are now the cause of that pain in your shoulders and other regions that can't be described in a local newspaper. We all have had the feeling before but sadly enough fail to recognize the signs when future ballots are placed in front of us. One the other hand, ask any candidate who has been elected to office and they will tell you without hesitation that the electorate are, at the very least, fickle. One elected official in particular has been helpful to this writer by passing along little pearls of wisdom in dealing with the public. I now know how to focus on the bigger picture.
Early voting has begun for the bond issue for a proposed event center in Benton. Before anyone heads out to put their mark on either side of the issue, take a moment to determine your motivation for voting in the first place. Before we get too far into this discussion, I must make it clear that I am not allowed to vote in the election. My residence is not within the prescribed Benton city limits but this town is my home. I was born in Saline Memorial Hospital. I graduated from the Benton School system. I'm a proud Cougar and Panther. This town is in my blood.
My position as editor of this paper places me in the midst of discussions on a large range of topics. For the past several months, the A&P Commission in Benton and the proposed event center has been one of those topics at the list of importance, not in the sense of what might be going on news-wise on any particular day but more along the lines of what headlines in the paper will be five years from now.
If you believe this town is not at that kind of turning point, please take a moment to step back from the emotion of the issue. We are all feeling it, on both sides.
First, remove any thoughts and comparisons this issue may bring to the forefront of your thinking as it pertains to the ill-fated Fairplex of last fall. These are two distinctly different. Apples and oranges. The Fairplex was a 50+ million dollar initiative that was grand in scope and some might say, overly ambitious. It was the civic project equivalent of an all-inclusive vacation at a Sandals resort. It had good points but the bad over-powered the good and rational. This is not the case with this event center project. The cost is significantly lower and funding from the A&P tax is dedicated at paying off the bonds. Anyone that says the event center is the same thing as the Fairplex is incorrect and so is any designation that it is a 'Fairplex Junior'. The use of these words are simply attempts to bring emotion into the equation because, in the world of politics, emotion moves voters. However, harken back to the beginning of this editorial and remember the times you voted on emotion and lived to rue the day.
A billboard in town urges voters to "Kill the tax on food." While some may say the A&P tax is on food is technically true, the fact of the matter is that the tax is levied only on food prepared for the consumer in restaurants within the city limits of Benton. While not directly stating the tax is on food such as groceries, the owner of the billboard, whomever they may be, do not present to full facts. Voters who base a decision solely upon the few words on the billboard do themselves and their town a huge injustice by accepting what they read to be the truth sufficient to base an educated vote on the issue. And the people who put up that billboard know this to be a fact. I am asking the owner of the billboard to come forth, meet with me and present their case based upon the facts of the initiative. I also ask they provide documents to support their claims.
I also ask the same of those favoring the event center. I have been in the meetings held in public and open to all citizens where the discussions of the center and the details of financing thereof. I have asked questions of those who are on the commission. I have been allowed to state my point of view without condition in a straightforward manner. I wish to have the same opportunity with those in opposition to the project. When I do, I will report the facts as presented to me. Fair and balanced.
In my position as managing editor, I have met and come to know all the mayors of the this county and many, if not all, of the elected officials who are in charge of guiding this great county forward. What I learned right off the bat that we, the citizens of Saline County, sure don't make it easy for any of them. However, this does not have to be the case. We have a chance to change the course of this counties largest city and county seat. The citizens of Benton are the ones that will make it happen or let it go away, again. Just like all the other initiative and game-changers that have bounced off the stubborn determination of those who want to keep things as they are. Bass Pro Shop, a local lake and water supply, etc.
We have to get away from the "not in my backyard" mentality that keeps progress at bay.
It has been said that to see how a town has grown all one needs to do is look at the cemeteries within the city limits. Historically, as towns grow they place cemeteries along the edge of town. Take a look around your city and see what this points out to you and your town's growth.
So, citizens of Benton, will you get out there and do whatever it takes to ignore the emotion of the event center issue to make it happen or will you start erecting headstones in the open lot at Hickory Square shopping center?