Those who attended the May 1 city council meeting or who watched it from home witnessed a very disturbing scenario play out, and one that should cause deep reflection and concern about how important decisions are made in Chadron.
When affected business owners are literally reduced to emotionally begging an imperious council to save their livelihoods it is a heart-wrenching experience, both for those doing the begging and those watching. The fact that the decision to not move forward with a roundabout hinged upon that experience is outrageous. But, it could easily happen again.
What is most disappointing to some is the apparent betrayal by those council members elected in 2014 under the banner of Team Chadron, of some of the key principles they agreed to in order to receive the support of the now legally defunct organization.
Their disregard for two of the five principles is especially troubling. They agreed (1) “Before making decisions, Council members will actively seek a wide range of public input when dealing with controversial issues.” Instead, they limited public input on this highly controversial issue to only those businesses within 1000 feet of the intersection. They then discounted the results of a professionally conducted card survey of every mailing address in the local zip code.
They also agreed (2) “Council members will use sound and transparent decision-making processes informed by appropriate data…” However, they failed to acknowledge the shortcomings of the data provided by the Olsson Associates study, and the actual intersection crash data indicating barely over two crashes per year average for nearly a decade. It was also revealed by the Pourier’s attorney that there have been zero crashes at the US 20/385 intersection on the west edge of Chadron since 2014.
As far as “sound and transparent decision-making processes,” whenever someone says “I’m going to (or did) vote my conscience,” you can be sure that they are relying more on some personal voodoo and non-public information, than “appropriate data.”
Council member Bannon stated that “Chadron has been a ‘Wait and See’ community for a very long time,” prior to the vote as an indicator of what his vote would be. In saying that, he entirely ignored the obvious fact that the Pourier brothers, who grew up in Chadron and have been actively involved in the community for years, didn’t “wait and see” before investing $2.5 million in their business.
Barbara Coppleman, representing MacDonald’s, said they would have never bought the local franchise if they had been aware of the roundabout proposal, but they didn’t “wait and see.” The same with the owner of the China House restaurant, who said the roundabout “would kill my business.” He didn’t “wait and see,” either.
These, and others who have invested in Chadron did so under the premise that city leadership would respect their investments, hard work, community involvement, and income generating engines for the betterment of Chadron.
According to the Chadron Record, Bannon cited his reason for voting to support the roundabout was that it “would have decreased the conflict points in the intersection from 32 to 8.” Werner cited additional sidewalks and continued trail development as his reason. So, in essence, they voted to damage or destroy local businesses in order to speculate on improving crash statistics at an intersection that averages just two fender-bender crashes per year, and speculate on future sidewalk and trail development.
The callous disregard exhibited toward our local entrepreneurs and business persons is in stark contrast to the ongoing efforts to attract new businesses and expand existing ones that are central to local economic development efforts. Actions speak louder than words, but words get around. Why would anyone choose to invest in the Chadron business community when the attitude toward local business was so clearly displayed by two council members on May 1?
If you think that having to beg and grovel to save your, or your neighbor’s, business and life’s work from the next “big idea” on the Team Chadron Agenda is acceptable, do nothing. If, however, you think that’s a risk Chadron business owners and their customers shouldn’t have to take, now is the time to act to send an unmistakable message. Don’t wait and see if things will change.
Nebraska Statutes, Chapter 32, Sections 1301-1309 outline the rules and requirements to recall locally elected officials.