Once in a while, employees within governmental (i.e. political) administrations can be valuable public allies by challenging their colleagues to better serve the public interest. Over my years of exposure to city and state governance, I’ve known a few, but precious few such folks– especially those who have been willing to take a stand, questioning or even challenging the prescribed political course.
I recall a while ago, one agency staffer would often say to his colleagues and administrators that there are two questions which must be answered in a way that is both publicly known and publicly acceptable: 1) “Why do you want to do this project?”, and 2) Why do you really want to do this project?”
The answer to question No. 1 is the kind of answer that a Public Information Officer might spoon-feed to the citizenry or to the media. We’ve all heard them on TV or seen them in print in our favorite hometown daily newspaper— projects justified in one way or another based on vague rationales of increased quality of life, growth and prosperity, economic development for the community, etc.
However, officials are rarely forced to disclose the answer to the second question, which indicates that there are often underlying reasons which would not be prudent, politically speaking, to reveal to the general citizenry. Perhaps the project is a political favor to a loyal party supporter or campaign contributor. If the official cannot tell the public that politics, personal friendship, mutual back-scratching, or even personal financial interest is the real reason for the project, then it should not proceed.
Of course, many times such disclosures pertinent to the second question never come. They’re not offered, and they’re rarely demanded by the gullible yet increasingly disempowered citizenry or by the local media.
In the case of the planned dam, the proponents have claimed, at different times, that a need exists for increased economic development, lifestyle enhancement and community image, then flood control, recreation, and, most recently, additional public water supply for central Indiana.
We continue to suspect that there are other underlying motivations, such as personal financial gain, via real estate development and corporate business expansion, personal political power, etc., which are really (actually) driving this project. Perhaps some of these will become known as time goes by.