As I sit at my desk the day after Christmas — with several extra pounds on my waist and a purring office cat on my lap — I think about how much there is to be thankful for as we slip into the New Year.
Because I’m in the business of publishing a community newspaper, I also think about all that we need to keep an eye on in 2016. No matter how sated we may be with the sugar and tryptophan of the holidays, it’s important to remember that we can’t protect democracy by building gates around our personal desires and forgetting our place in the larger community.
Here are my top three local issues for the coming year:
• Beach erosion: It isn’t going away. Even if you believe that pumping sand on public beaches is a waste of time and money, it does allow one of the main economic drivers of Florida (tourism) to continue. As our population increases (there are now 6 million people living in the South Florida corridor), there is a growing need for recreational space — and there are very few public beaches remaining. No matter how many gates we put up, tourists (and residents) will want to come to the beach. Those of us lucky enough to live along the shore need to take a broader look at the role beaches play in our economy and not succumb to an “I’ve got mine” mentality.
• Sober homes: The recovery industry’s meteoric rise over the past few years has taken almost everyone by surprise. We’ve all known family, friends or neighbors who have battled with addiction and are thankful for professionals who provided assistance for this disease. What we didn’t expect was for the sober home industry to explode when laws and a lack of regulations provided access to easy money for those who prey on the needs of others.
Now we have the fourth-largest industry in Palm Beach County giving little back to the communities where they see the most potential profit. It’s become an issue for government agencies (aka our tax dollars) to deal with. Unless recovery industry leaders step up their efforts to police their own (it’s not like they don’t have the money), it’s going to take a long time for the wheels of government to provide a solution that benefits both the communities and the growing need for addiction treatment.
• Guns for hire: Advance apologies to all my attorney friends, but it seems that no dispute (no matter how small) is settled in our area without costing thousands of dollars in legal fees. Again, much of this ends up being paid by the taxpayers. In meeting after meeting, I watch individuals, businesses and developers seek special allowances from local government by hiring well-connected lawyers who know what it takes behind the scenes to get things done. Can’t blame them, it’s how things work.
But after seven years of attending local government meetings, I see the same attorneys before our councils and commissions again and again and again. It becomes obvious that a very few people are behind the changes (good and bad) happening in our communities. Someone is profiting, and seldom is it the taxpayer.
Will any of these concerns be mitigated or solved in the coming year? Doubtful. These are complex issues.
Still, I have hope for 2016.
Already I see citizens organizing and becoming better informed. In today’s changing media world, this is essential. It has become more and more important that traditional “follow-the-money” journalism be supplemented by courageous citizens who are willing to become part of the solution: solutions that work for everyone.
Mary Kate Leming,