Premature Emancipation

A preemptive strike is only ever any good if: A) It hits its intended target, and B) There is actually something there to preempt. Anything else is just going off half-cocked. The necessity of a preemptive strike, meanwhile, is almost always negated when avenues of communication are open and clear and free of the debris of suspicion, distrust, envy and ego.

Panic never helps either. If the world learned anything from the works of the late Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series, it is “Don’t Panic!”

But according to the Honorable Mayor himself, that is precisely what Blythewood Town Council did last week when they voted – without dissent – to sever their franchise agreement with the Town of Winnsboro for the sale of water. The 20-year contract, signed in 2000, requires a two-year termination notice to prevent an automatic 10-year renewal. Not only did the move come four years too early, even if the Town of Winnsboro were to accept the premature opt-out, it would do nothing to end the sale of water by Winnsboro to customers in and around Blythewood. It would, however, spell the end of the $13,000 or so in franchise fees Winnsboro pays each year to Blythewood for use of and access to Blythewood’s right-of-ways. All of the infrastructure – the pipes, the pumps, the taps – all still belong to Winnsboro. And according to very reliable sources, all of those connections could be rerouted around and away from any and all Blythewood right-of-ways so that Winnsboro could continue to sell water without any considerable difficulty.

Killing the franchise agreement, it would appear, is what one might identify as a classic “Lose-Lose” situation for Blythewood. What, then, could have inspired such a preemptive strike, and what could have caused this strike to fail to meet either of the above two criteria for success?

Communication and leadership.

To paraphrase the Mayor, when Blythewood’s City Fathers caught whiff of what they thought were negotiations between Winnsboro and a private company for the sale of Winnsboro’s water infrastructure underneath the ground in Blythewood, the City Fathers suddenly imagined themselves suspended on a short dangle above a frothing barrel of rising water rates. It is one thing, after all, to negotiate water rates with your friends and neighbors in Winnsboro, but another thing entirely to negotiate with a faceless corporation whose only objective is to squeeze the bottom line for its shareholders.

This indeed might be a legitimate reason to hit the Panic Button; the only drawback, of course, is that it is not wholly accurate. There were, according to Winnsboro, no such negotiations. An offer, yes; but negotiations? No. And the offer itself was so modest in substance as to be nothing short of easy to walk away from.

It is difficult to understand, when considering the fear of corporate buyout argument, how killing the franchise agreement could possibly put Blythewood in a more advantageous position. Whether that infrastructure is owned by Winnsboro or by International Faceless Amalgamated Utilities Limited, Inc., no water is ever going to move through those pipes without money changing hands. Regardless of where that water originates.

And that brings us to the Mayor’s second cause for panic – Winnsboro could not supply enough water to ensure development and growth in Blythewood. The Mayor’s example, the proposed Doko Village project, may indeed have been a water guzzler along the lines of Sea World or a Coca-Cola bottling plant, but then again maybe not. The project itself never got far enough beyond the design stage to formally request from Winnsboro the 100,000 gallons a day developers estimated it might one day require.

But suppose for a moment that it had, or does or will, and suppose Winnsboro is a few gallons shy of making those dreams come true. If a project is indeed good enough, water can be found. If Winnsboro can overcome the hurdles and roadblocks it overcame to bring water to the Fairfield Commerce Center, a few more gallons for the likes of Doko Village would not seem so difficult to obtain. Killing the franchise fee, meanwhile, does nothing to bring water to Doko Village or any other proposed development. It does mean, however, that when that water is allocated and when it does flow through those pipes, the Town of Blythewood won’t see a dime of the revenue it brings.

Panic. It’s a lousy way to run a government.

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