Complacency, Resignation Are Our Emenies

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by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

“It is important, if you are going to ensure the death of your community, that you lose focus on your goals and become complacent, or support those who are complacent in their decisions and leadership roles within your community.”

-- 13 ways to kill your community, by Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer

Complacency, the dictionaries say, is that feeling of being satisfied with the way things are and supporting the status quo. It is particularly destructive in that it is often accompanied by an ignorance of the dangers that stifle community growth.  Leaders dismiss challenges as temporary obstacles that will pass without any special attention needing to be paid to them and citizens go along with their assumptions.

A sense of resignation can be a companion of complacency. It is an acceptance that the challenges and troubles a community faces are beyond the ability of local leaders and citizens to deal with them. It is a passive acceptance of the way things are that keeps citizens from agitating for action. There are times when an agitated citizenry is essential to keeping a community moving forward.

In rural Minnesota, we face the considerable challenge of a steadily declining population. It threatens the health and sustainability of our schools, churches, businesses, healthcare providers, and our local governments.  But it is a problem that many in government at both the state and local levels seem resigned to as an unchangeable truth.

Minnesota’s Legislature is dominated today by metropolitan legislators due to a decades-long shift of the state’s population from rural areas to the seven counties surrounding Minneapolis and St. Paul. That means that rural issues don’t get the attention they once did. Those metropolitan legislators are complacent, content, with the direction Minnesota is headed because in their neighborhood every thing is just fine – and rural Minnesota’s problems really don’t matter.

Rural legislators are too often resigned to their loss of influence and bogged down by the day-to-day details of representing their district’s constituents. That attention to detail is necessary, but too often it seems to cause the loss of a big picture view of the needs of rural Minnesotans. Further, rural Republicans and Democrats seem to lack a common vision for rural Minnesota. If they have one, they certainly haven’t communicated it to us.

Rural legislators also too often end up having to side with their party’s politics, which can have them working against rural their constituents. Governor Mark Dayton wants $100 million of the state’s $900 million budget surplus to go to projects that expand broadband service throughout the state.  Republicans who control the Minnesota House want the expenditure closer to $35 million over the next two years.

Broadband internet service is essential to businesses locating and expanding in rural Minnesota, yet some rural Republican legislators are going to have to take the party line and vote against higher spending for it.

The Legislature’s rural caucus, made up of Democrats and Republicans, needs to detail a plan for the resurgence of rural Minnesota. It needs to gather input not only from rural residents, but business and local government leaders. That information needs to be gathered not just in Minnesota, but also throughout rural America so that steps other states are taking to help revitalize their rural areas can be studied.

When that information is gathered, there needs to be a State of Rural Minnesota Summit. Out of that summit needs to come real legislative initiatives that move us forward. The state can marshal the energy and resources to conduct a pheasant summit over the concern about our dwindling ring-necked population, but what about our decimated rural people population?

We can’t sit and wait for the state to act. We need to seriously look at what we can do locally to identify what works and what doesn’t when it comes to economic development. What strategies have worked in other rural communities around America?

What strategies are a waste of time and money?

But local governments face the same problem as legislators. The meeting agenda issues dominate their civic time. Their families and their jobs, their recreational time, all pull away from the ability to focus on much more than the present things that need to get done.

Back in 2007 the Swift County’s Board of Commissioners formed a Blue Ribbon Committee of county residents to look into where the county could spur economic development. It involved dozens of hours of work on the part of the committee and the county board to develop the plan with recommendations for moving forward. That plan gathers dust today.

There are times when a good community newspaper acts as a irritant to those in power, prodding those who are supposed to be our leaders to lead, not simply set the cruise control. Every member of every local public body should ask himself or herself, “What am I doing to ensure the community’s future?” Citizens need to ask local and state leaders that question as well.

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