The Business Council of Douglas County is sponsoring election debates, including of the proposed airport ordinance. I originally agreed to be part of the con team for the airport debate, but will no longer participate. Here’s why.
Debates are educational for those listening but they also lend legitimacy to the outcome of an election. “Well, all the arguments were out there.”
For that reason debates must be conducted on a level playing field. As I first understood this debate, that seemed to be the case. Both the pro and con sides were to have equal time and would have the opportunity to pose questions to each other.
Then late in the game I was told that the format had changed and the county staff would take the first 15 minutes of the 60 available to “present” the ordinance. In addition, the Business Council would be deciding which questions to ask.
That sounds reasonable, but isn’t. As someone opposed to this ordinance, I consider the county the real adversary here. This ordinance was written and put on the ballot by the county itself and is essentially the next step in the county’s plans to expand our airport in ways that I believe could harm our community. And it follows a very flawed county-run process to prepare and adopt the Airport Master Plan in 2008.
My experience is that the county has been anything but neutral in its airport planning. I watched in the fall of 2008 as dozens of concerned citizens beseeched the county commission to make changes to the airport master plan to better protect our community. After hours of testimony by intelligent, well-informed people, the county didn’t change a single word. The plan was pushed through as prepared by staff. I’ve seen the same happen with many other issues.
As to the Business Council’s selection of questions, I imagine they feel confident that they could do that in an unbiased manner. But the truth is, we all bring bias to our endeavors. One selling point of airport expansion is the potential economic benefits to the county, something the business community might have inherent sympathy with. The original format was fair. But if some third party is to select the questions, who decided the business council should do that?
So when the organizers decided to give the pro side of this debate an extra 25 percent of the time available and to control the questions, I had a decision to make. I shared my concerns in the hope that we might find a way to address them. The response from the business council was not constructive, basically an indignant diatribe against our team for having the temerity to question the process.
At that point, I decided I could no longer support this process and so I dropped out. That was as I write, on Aug. 23. There have no doubt been developments since. Perhaps a fair and informative debate will still be possible, but it won’t include me.