On Representation and 11th hour battles

Commissioners last night voted to end a 2 year long debate on the expansion of beaches to swimmers in Traverse City. At least temporarily.

The swim zone at Clinch Park was 400 feet long last summer. It now will increase to 500 feet, plus a 50-foot no-boat buffer on all sides. The swim zone near the volleyball courts west of the city-owned marina will grow from 400 to 1,000 feet.

Commissioners vowed to roll back the expanded swim zones if they prove to be larger than needed.

“We’re coming to the point of what I consider a compromise, and one that I think we should try and see how it goes,” Commissioner Jody Bergman said. “We can change it if it doesn’t work out. We need to move ahead with this.”

I was there..  In fact, I took a position contrary to the vote result.  The beaches as I see it, particularly in the western part of the zones being expanded are under utilized by swimmers already, and the revenue from boaters who presumably spend money in Traverse City might be lessened as those boaters face a less safe and more congested shoreline while their areas of use shrink.

But the city commission had the correct result.  Though I might even have a subtle disagreement with the scope of the swim area expansion, I have to recognize a couple of important things; representation, and timeliness.

The meeting was actually constructive, and offered a couple of lessons.  The boaters, who were clearly in the majority, vocally strong and well informed, were not CITY residents.  And though arguments can be made about effects on the economy throughout the rest of the region based upon city decisions, it was a four to one city resident ratio in favor of expansion.  Its THEIR city.  And  still, Commissioners were not deaf to the pleas of the boaters in attendance.  The expansion, though pretty much set in stone by the time the vote came up was

  • A. already a compromise with some forethought, and..
  • B. Met no constructive opposition until the opinions of the commissioners was fairly well settled.

As I noted in the opening of this article, the matter has been underway for 2 years.  There has been ample opportunity to offer constructive advice. Commissioners have been available, and have even been willing to be convinced either way, based on Commissioner Soffredine’s reply to a claim he was ambivalent on the issue.  One of the pro boat attendees argued Soffredine “should recuse himself from the decision” because he had said he leaned neither way (I believe the claim was made that he said “I don’t care which way”) on the issue.  Soffredine explained he simply meant that he was willing to listen to both sides of the argument, and was looking for constructive input.

But the appropriate input didn’t come.  At least not in time.  And the vote was held. And the decision made.  And as the article linked to above suggests (based on Commissioner Bergman’s statement) they will look at the results, and keep open the possibility of changing or modifying in the future.  They had to vote however.

The Record Eagle article missed a couple lessons on a micro scale, that can extend to all levels of politics.   Representation is the way that office holders serve their constituents.  These commissioners are ultimately responsible for the best interests of those who vote for them, and place them in those positions of responsibility.  The voices of their own constituents MUST outweigh those who harbor claims from outside their voter base.

But more importantly is the lack of input that could sway the decisions based on fact, if it was presented in a timely manner.  Boaters who strongly opposed the expansion of the beach swim areas at the cost of boating areas, found their ships had sailed already.  The eleventh hour attempts to sway a group that was looking at an upcoming Summer weekend start, ultimately came too late.

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