Oglethorpe block

The city of Brunswick is planning to build the Oglethorpe Conference Center on the block where Newcastle and Bay streets split in downtown Brunswick.

Nearly two decades ago, development of the Oglethorpe Block and the construction of a Conference Center was conceived with forethought and deliberation and generally embraced by city residents. It was a component of the rebirth of the urban fabric of downtown — a long needed blueprint. That was then, this is now. Whether you agreed or not with the Blueprint Brunswick plan, the social and economic environment today is far different than it was 13 years ago.

The challenge of our local leaders today is to re-evaluate what is best in the “public interest” in 2018 not 2005. The American journalist and social critic Walter Lippmann provides one definition of public interest — “The public interest may be presumed to be what…[people] would choose if they saw clearly, thought rationally, acted disinterestedly and benevolently.”

Two basic demands are made on those in public service: First, to reflect on its many facets disclosed through broad representation and dialogue, and second, to engage genuinely the duties and values associated with four aspects of public interest: democracy, mutuality, sustainability and legacy.

The centrality of democratic values, especially as a constraint on administrative arrogance, drives the pursuit of mutual/common interests. It encompasses the balancing of competing popular preferences, cost-benefit analysis and citizen and stakeholder input. Legacy is largely dependent on the third, sustainability. Sustainability carries with it the mantle of fiduciary responsibility and recognizes the irreversibility of certain crossroad decisions.

With these core thoughts in mind, I suggest here that our public servants seriously consider the prerequisite input and consensus of its citizens and recognize the magnitude of the commitment and risks of the taxpayers financial investment that will probably not be reversible. Truly a burden that will be imposed on the coming generation. There are a myriad of other beneficial investments with a higher rate of return — in city programs, staff and personnel, upgraded public facilities and infrastructure that may pay far more dividends. The new library renovation will offer a generous accommodation for sizeable meetings and conference space without duplicating it with a $6 million investment two blocks away with projected operating losses and monthly debt service payments for years to come.

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