New year, government officials being sworn in today, and Columbia County is getting a new chair of the Board of Supervisors, new mayor in Hudson, some changes, nothing dramatic. While the new probable chair Grattan of Kinderhook seems to be a tremendous improvement in terms of integrity and intelligence over the hapless departing Roy Brown of Germantown, and we hope for good things in Hudson, the overall picture has not changed significantly.
Many elected officials in Columbia County do not understand our local economy. The state offers aid on the assumption that the local officials are in a better position to address local concerns than some state agency but this assumption is not borne out by experience. Some elected officials don't care about the economy. Petty patronage through the highway department, ginning up "us versus them" politics and making beautiful things ugly are fine to many of our leaders because actual economic growth, protection of natural resources and hospitality and openness to outsiders would undermine their own positions. I would offer the entire town board of the town of Stuyvesant, particularly the dishonest supervisor, Ron Knott, as examples of this kind of reactionary, close-minded and counter productive government.
We can think about the place we live, the time we live in, and come up with a plan that will be put into place by the existing institutions to create prosperity, protect open space, improve education, and reduce inter-tribal tension. I am offering such a plan in this post for 2012, as if people actually cared about those things, the environment and the economy, instead of just feathering their own nests at the expense of the public interest. We can pretend to have a functioning system of government and think about what this hypothetical government might do.
Columbia County should be an agro-tourism destination. Wait: you can't sum up a whole county in one hyphenated word--"agro-tourism"--and be done, right? There has to be more to it than that.
Well, no. Agro-tourism is compatible with light industry, second home ownership, the arts, the environment, and will lead to economic growth while protecting the land. Agro-tourism is not compatible with heavy industry and sprawl. Saying Columbia County is a place for agro-tourism covers almost everything.
Towns are too small to be marketing units in New York City and other places. The idea of the "Hudson Valley" is too nebulous and there is no governmental authority capable of protecting and encouraging the brand. The brand can't just be a trick. It has to actually mean what it says: agro-tourism.
Roy Brown was pretty proud of his billboard in Times Square. That billboard was the equivalent of flushing the taxpayer's money down the drain. Second home owners are not going to buy in Columbia County because of a billboard but might go elsewhere when they see that stupid thing.
If you say you are an agro-tourism destination, then you make it true, then you can easily and truthfully market the county almost effortlessly. Putting up a poster with a horse on it was just stupid.
I could get into the specifics, how to make this work. It's clear to me all the pieces to make a coherent County-wide strategy to protect open space, grow the economy and create unimagined prosperity. It would work.
Unfortunately, we have a government all mucked up with people who don't care about prosperity or preserving natural resources.