Occasionally, a profile in courage

Once in a while, it does a soul good to keep an eye peeled for signs that our local government officials are using common sense when considering one or another proposal.

Change can be a wonderful thing — or not, depending on the nature of the change and the probable outcome.

Leaders sometimes tend to set aside their skepticism in order to appear to be moving forward.

Nothing, other than a disastrous policy decision, worries them more than the accusation that they are doing nothing.

When they voice reasonable skepticism, they need encouragement – especially if the topic under discussion involves people who have already chosen sides.

“Us versus them” is a powerful part of human nature that can lead to unproductive behavior. Proponents sometimes attack the skeptic as though he were a heretic. Opponents tend to suspect that the skepticism is merely lip service for tactical reasons, if the leader is not perceived as being on their side already.

Caught in the crossfire, a leader may simply retreat to what seems to be the safer position and leave it to someone else to take up the cause of applying common sense.

Recently, on three occasions one or more of our local leaders expressed a healthy degree of skepticism.

When the passionate proponents of passenger-only ferry (POF) service between Bremerton and Seattle suggested using a federal tax-credit program to provide some funding, County Commissioners Jan Angel and Steve Bauer questioned whether this would be an appropriate use of the program.

In a nutshell, the federal tax credits are available to private investors who make qualified equity investments in low-income areas.

The goal is to reduce the cost of capital needed for economic development in places like the old downtown of Bremerton.

Not only would using this program for POF service stretch the rules – perhaps to the breaking point – it could possibly push a more appropriate project aside.

Whatever the outcome, Angel and Bauer were clearly right in asking questions that go to the heart of the matter.

When some climate experts from the University of Washington briefed the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, the topic of local government actions to reduce “greenhouse gas” (GHG) emissions arose.

There are few things that can get people fired up more than the issue of government action to avoid “climate change” (or “global warming”).

Imagine then, the courage it probably took for Bauer to note that the county ought to focus on seeking lower costs through energy efficiency rather than appearing to join a movement to combat climate change.

He must have known the risk he was taking.

It is common sense to make economical efforts to reduce energy usage rather than to divert revenue to symbolic efforts to reduce GHG emissions with little regard for the cost-effectiveness of the action.

As the experts noted, climate change may well require local governments to adapt – and adapting often costs money.

Spending public funds on ineffective gestures is as bad as simply throwing the money away, since some climate change is surely going to happen over the long term whether it occurs mostly from natural cycles or human activities.

When the Port of Bremerton commissioners took the time to discuss openly the prospects for the “SEED” project here in South Kitsap, there was another instance of applying common sense.

It appears that efforts to identify businesses that would commit to leasing space in an addition to the port’s industrial area have borne little fruit.

Asking about the market demand for space in a new and expensive building, and asking about the cost compared to the port district’s available assets and revenue to pay that cost are reasonable questions to raise.

Port Commissioner Larry Stokes appears to be the most skeptical, while Commissioner Bill Mahan seems to be the most optimistic, and Commissioner Cheryl Kincer is somewhere in the middle.

That is a healthy spectrum of opinion, even if things might get a little contentious at times.

If SEED is going to happen, a big part of the cost will probably be paid by taxpayers living within the port’s boundaries; so we need a discussion of the project that is loud enough for all to notice.

The project might turn out to be a welcome addition to the Kitsap County economy – especially benefiting residents of South Kitsap who may find useful employment without a long commute.

Or it could turn out to be an expensive unfulfilled dream.

Either way, having leaders who are willing to talk it over and make their best judgment about the probable risk of gain or loss from the investment is a good thing.

It is a safe bet that we won’t all agree with the decision, but at least we may see that a rational basis for the decision exists.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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