Friday, June 01, 2007


(News-Herald, May 31) The Two Mile Run County Park flap has been, every step of the trip, a classic Venangoland confrontation between folks who set out to do the Right Thing in the worst possible way, and folks who believe the world would be a better place if we could just roll the clock back forty years.

When these two sides line up against each other, confrontation always turns ugly. When one side looks across the gulf, they see a bunch of slope-browed yahoos who don’t have the brains to know what’s good for them. When the yahoos look back across the gulf, they see arrogant snobs who believe their money and education make them so much better than everyone else.

The last time these two groups squared off was the Great Hospital Merger Fiasco. History shows that merging Oil City and Franklin hospitals was exactly right, but the Big Bosses managed to mishandle it every step of the way, feeding an increasingly angry opposition. Arrogance married mule-headedness and gave birth to the Worst Possible “Solution” -- a hospital in Cranberry.

The county’s decision to give up management of Two Mile was smart. It was a black hole of tax dollars, taking from the taxpayers while barely remaining usable. Handing it to a management firm made sense. Instead of the classic government management model (“Run this business for us and we’ll pay you the same whether you succeed or fail”), we got a conservative free-market approach (“Run this business, and you will prosper only if it prospers”).

But the first proposal for park development called for a complete change in the character of the place with a resort hotel and a fancy restaurant. At the most this required a steady stream of rich folks from far away places; at the very least it required that local folks be convinced the plan had merit. The park folks failed to sell the plan, and by the time the plan was scaled back, it was too late. Somehow the battle lines between ignorant yahoos and arrogant snobs had been drawn.

Some of this mess was unexpected. I’ve met Tim Spuck, and I’m familiar with the Rudegeairs, and they all strike me as reasonably decent folks, so how the stupid spat over the observatory managed to spiral out of control is a mystery to me. From out here in the cheap seats, it seems like the sort of dispute that two friendly ten-year-olds could resolve.

Of course, other parts of the mess are completely predictable. Once things turned unpleasant, lawsuits were inevitable—the courts remain the weapon of choice in the county.

Not that there was any mystery about some of the outcomes. If the Two Mile Run treehouses are competition with Turtle Bay Lodge, then my dog is competition with the Lipizzaner Stallions and I am a serious contender for the US Senate. Of course, if Mrs. Beichner becomes commissioner, she’ll be able to insure that the “competition” never threatens her again.

And about the commissioner soon-to-be-elects. I’m not particularly comforted by their offer to help out with the park. Here we are about to seat an entire brand new set of inexperienced county commissioners who will have to manage a court system, oversee regional economic development, and administer a massive staff of county employees, and the first thing they want to get a primer on is the park !!??!

But there’s still plenty of dopiness to go around. When a usually-reliable radio newsman reported that the Rudegeairs had skipped town, he could have resorted to the journalistic approach of driving past the house with his eyes open. The Rudegeairs deserved better.

And I’m going to hope that the park board’s decision to freeze Two Mile in place for the summer is a prudent managerial choice and not just a petulant pouty fit. Because it certainly seems like the message of the shut-down is “Our main goal in managing the park is to get our own way, and if we aren’t going to, then why bother.” This is a different message from, say, “We’re going to take this chance to give the county one more summer of the park being run the way we believe it should be run.”

Right now it looks like a bunch of sad failure all around. Parks Unlimited failed to win allies and articulate a vision of themselves as aggressive caretakers of a county trust. Their opponents failed to articulate any vision that didn’t include some fantasy-based return to a golden age of the park that never existed.

In some ways it’s a small loss. It’s not like we have a woods and water shortage in Venangoland. But it would be nice not to have to watch the “arrogant snobs” and “ignorant yahoos” square off yet again.

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