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  • Last modified 12 days ago (Sept. 8, 2021)

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Cashing in
on dollar stores

All good things must come to an end. And so, too, must a few bad ones. That’s the lesson Marion City Council learned at a sometimes heated session Tuesday night.

Marion’s brief flirtation with adding to its roster of dollar stores ended exactly as expected — with the store pulling out and various officials pulling out all stops to blame their opponents.

Truth is, the officials’ own lack of openness is what cost Marion its dubious opportunity to land an additional store it may not have wanted or needed.

Open and honest discussion about a store wanting to locate here almost certainly would have led to a location other than one intentionally set aside as a buffer between a growing residential area and a languishing industrial park.

Yes, it might have been legally possible to salvage the deal by abandoning a reservation that set the land aside and by coming up with an engineering marvel to handle serious drainage issues.

However, both would have been costly and far from assured solutions. The location would have needed to be re-platted, re-subdivided, and re-zoned. And all of these “re-re-re-“ things would have had to be approved by an independent planning and zoning commission forced to turn a blind eye to the city’s master plan — which, in turn, would have been just the ticket concerned neighbors needed to ride the issue all the way to court.

Trying to save face by claiming the sale could be made legal was a bit like a football player claiming after committing some infraction that the rules he broke could be changed.

The irony of Marion’s mayor scolding a fellow council member for not bringing very valid concerns to him before a meeting two weeks ago hung heavy in a sometimes stuffy basement room where the council meets.

This was, after all, the same mayor who refused for more than two weeks to tell council members that an existing dollar store had protested the sale because it thought it had been promised no other dollar stores would be considered.

Secrecy, sniping, and stupidity are items barely worth stocking even in the super-cheap section of any dollar store. They happen so often here that they’re not worth the cost of a cup of coffee to discuss them.

And we’re not the only ones who think so. In recent days, we’ve been contacted by an accountant from McPherson, a lawyer from Lawrence, and a politician from elsewhere in the county, all asking the same question: What the heck (though they didn’t use that word) is wrong with Marion government?

It’s a reasonable question — one that drove us to do some reflection by rifling through the reams of discord that often is chronicled on these pages.

While people like to blame Marion’s political dysfunction on specific individuals, the same sort of dysfunction traces back through multiple different mayors, administrators, and council members over the decades.

It seems to have begun when Marion first hired an administrator and switched from having commissioners, specifically responsible for certain government functions, to council members, all of whom dealt with issues only through the administrator.

Perhaps, in a community as intimately small as ours, adding a layer of bureaucracy between elected officials and those who actually do the work of government is what leads to problems, especially in a town that always has prided itself on independent thinking.

It may be too late for the city to change back to the more tidy and productive commissioner form of government, but this is a lesson county commissioners should carefully consider before blithely bounding down the primrose path to build yet more bureaucracy with a county administrator.

Meanwhile, let’s hope we can someday get back to calling our mayor “his honor” or “her honor” and actually mean it.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Sept. 8, 2021

 

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