Recovering from a catastrophe

The Cooter Catastrophe has been a driver of message traffic on Rappnet for the last several days. Accusations and vitriolic responses have scorched the internet with enough misinformation to make my head spin.

The county’s elected and appointed government bodies have been vilified to make it clear to me that many of my fellow citizens do not believe that the citizenry is being properly served by those governmental bodies. I would generally agree with that, but for different reasons than have been expressed so far. Let me just say that Ben Jones has not been driven away. He pulled the zoning issue from consideration despite some ongoing efforts to find a solution to the Cooter Catastrophe by the county.

The documents that form the laws of the county (the zoning ordinance, for instance) are being interpreted and applied differently as situations arise. Our various boards and commissions do not seem to understand those governing documents well enough to apply a consistency that our republican form of government demands. (No, I’m not referring to political parties but the republican form of government.) I have the impression that people serving on those bodies are ignorant of the basic principles embodied in our laws and rules and consequently make decisions that cannot be defended by the existing law, or, at worst, look like decisions made to benefit the friends and families of the well-connected while the rest get shafted.

I have become convinced that a contributing factor to all this ill will in the air comes from a lack of a solid definition of what we collectively really want for our county’s future. Yes, a major theme is, “We want Rappahannock to stay as it is.” Well, what does that mean?

We no longer plow with horses and oxen, we no longer grind our own grain at all the local mills we once had, and we no longer rely on outhouses. On a larger scale, it’s estimated that only 2 percent of the U.S. population is nowadays engaged in producing, harvesting, distributing and retailing our food. Just 2 percent. Let’s face it, agriculture alone cannot sustain a viable economy in our county. We need significant job-producing opportunities for our younger citizens to allow them to stay and raise families. (Yes, our aging population of well-off retirees gets along just fine.)

It is no wonder that we cry out that we need more local businesses. This is tightly linked with the need for better internet connectivity. So, let’s agree that we do want some sort of change. We need to get beyond the blanket statement that says leave Rappahannock as it is. We need to define what we want to stay unchanged and what we want to change. I will leave trying to define such a view for another day.

Yes, the Rappahannock County’s Comprehensive Plan must have an important role in this, but the essential definition of our collective view of the future requires the members of our citizenry to be involved.

Bill Freitag
Flint Hill

Small community full-disclosure alert: Freitag is married to Rappahannock News contributing writer Patty Hardee, who covers the planning commission, including news of the Cooter’s land use dispute. The opinions expressed above are solely his own.

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