Last night, the St Joseph County Council held a public hearing and vote on the tax abatement revision bill 90-08.  This proposal, which would benefit the community by setting specific environmental and hiring standards before granting tax subsidies to businesses, is good public policy.   Taking my place in the line of supporters to voice my support for the bill, I implored the council-members to remember, like the people who may live next door, businesses are also neighbors in a community.  We must not give away tax abatements for jobs at any cost.   Do we actually want to entice a company that’s going to dump toxic waste into our waterways for the promise of a few jobs?   What is the point of prostituting our community to embrace John Doe, Inc who will treat their workers like chattel?  Doing so and trying to compete with other communities to see who can give away the most tax breaks is nothing less than a race to the bottom. 

As I prepared to leave the podium, Mark Root, District I Councilman asked me “didn’t you run for a seat on the city council in 2007?”

What, I wondered, does this have to do with Bill 90-08, but I answered, “Yes”.  

“Wouldn’t you say, then, that this ordinance would not have any affect on the people in your neighborhood?”  Root asked.

I was too shocked to answer.   Of course what businesses do affects everyone in a community, the state, the country, the planet!  Every time China builds another coal-burning power plant without regard for air quality, the winds bring those clouds of cancer-causing soot over the Pacific and onto our western states.  When a factory farm in St Joe County dumps millions of gallons of pig sewage into a lagoon that seeps into our groundwater, we all suffer the effects of that contamination; how far that goes out, no one can know for certain.  When we accept products made from the sweat of poorly treated workers, how does that make our community, state, country a better place?  How could an elected official not see the lines connecting these dots?  Does my concern for my neighbors stop at the end of my city block?

It seemed Mr. Root was insinuating that because I lived within the city limits and not in unincorporated county districts, I didn’t have the right to speak for all of us who are adversely affected by poor public policy!

While all this was roiling in my head, someone from the back of the room shouted something in my defense.  Then my councilman, Heath Weaver, asked me if I was his constituent.  When I answered affirmatively, Mr. Weaver retorted to Mr. Root that the latter’s insinuations were wrong, bringing applause from the audience.

Bill 90-08 passed; Mr. Weaver voted in favor of the measure, Mr. Root, against.