Friday, January 07, 2005

The Petition Debate: Neal, Mike, and John Mix It Up

Promoted from the comments to the earlier post "Back and Up; Welcome Back and Welcome!" in which I welcomed Fiber411's new site to blogosphere and the Lafayette fiber debate. A debate over Fiber411's petition drive ensued, a debate which might have a special poigniancy now that it appears that BellSouth, and not the two original petitioners will be the major player.

(begin material from the comments)
Neal Breakfield:

Lafayette Utilites System has served this city well for over 100 years and is probably the City's single most valuable asset aside from the strong, friendly community and unique Cajun culture. We firmly believe that.

LUS wants to enter into the telecommunications industry to compete against the incumbent service providers: Cox Communications and Bellsouth Communications, two of the largest telecommunications comapnies in the Southeast. This is a HUGE increase in the size and scope of government due to the logistics of the undertaking, the dollar amount (~$120 Million), the number of constituents affected, the risk involved... we could go on and on. Let's just say that NOBODY should underestimate or trivialize the impact that this will have on the community whether it succeeds or fails.

Having established the importance of the issue and the fact that that it WILL have a tremendous impact on the citizens in general and on business and industry alike, we feel that it would be a gross violation of the trust of the citizens if such a project were to go forward without voter approval.

Mayor Durel and many of the City-Parish Council members have publicly taken the position that we elected them to make decisons on our behalf, so they will decide this matter for us. They have all been publicly addressed with the concern that this matter is too large and too risky to be left to a simple majority council vote. Almost all of them have flatly refused to even discuss the matter of a public vote. One Council member (Marc Mouton) even said, "absolutely not" when asked if there would be a vote.

Since the Council and the Administration have chosen to ignore and impune our concerns, we have chosen to present the matter ourselves to the community to give the people a chance to voice their opinion.

In the coming weeks we will be circulating a petition to call for a public vote to approve or disapprove of the sale of public bonds to finance the project. PLEASE REALIZE THAT SIGNING THE PETITION IS NOT SIGNIFYING THAT YOU ARE AGAINST THE FIBER OPTIC PROJECT. Your signature merely means that you believe as we do that the matter is simply so important that it MUST have the input of the people direclty.

We hope that during the course of our efforts and through this web site a public discussion involving ALL parties will allow the public to be educated about the advantages and disadvantages of the project and then make an informed decision. The merits and specifics of the project will be covered on another discussion topic. We would like this thread to be confined to the matter of a public vote to keep the dialogue coherent. This web site is big enough for any and all related matters to be discussed in due course.

And remember, keep it nice and civil. This is a vey controversial topic, so the debate can get a little heated from time to time, but in the end we are all neighbors.

Thanks and best regards,

Neal Breakfield

Mike Stagg:

Neal Blakefield,

Your position that signing the petition does not constitute opposition to the LUS fiber project is delusional!

What you and your cohorts are asking is for a change of venue that gives the advantage of the debate to Cox, BellSouth and their out-of-state-puppets-posing-as-experts.

As you may or may not know, local governments cannot wage political campaigns in support of election issues. As we saw this summer, Cox has the ability and the willingness to run a virtually unlimited number commercials on its system at no cost to itself. BellSouth is likely to follow the example set by other RBOCs in similar situations and pour big dollars into a campaign designed to sway voters' minds.

So, what your petition asks for for Consolidated Government to be forced to willingly walk into an ambush. In some quarters that would be considered suicide; but, in your book, it's a fair fight.

This failure to comprehend the implications of your actions and recommendations is consistent with ideologically-driven behavior in which that facts just will not be allowed to stand in the way of what the ideologue percieves to be a good argument.

The ideological nature of your criticism of the LUS plan is evident by your willingness to choose to leave the economic future of this city in the hands of Atlanta-based decision-makers whose interest in Lafayette suddenly became acute when LUS announced its intentions.

You and your partners are, in fact, pawns of Cox and BellSouth made all the more valuable to them by the fact that you emerged on your own.

And, thank you, too, for telling us how to conduct the debate. I can't speak for John, but I refuse to be civil with people whose theories crowd out the room in their minds for unpleasantries like facts. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, derision in response to bullshit is no vice.

You want a debate? Bring it on! You want to set the terms of the argument? Dream on!

John St. Julien:

Hi Neal,

Nice post, kindly put... but mostly wrong or at least confusing (to me, anyway--see my "whaddya want" posts).

Just to walk through..

I'm thrilled to see that you recognize the value to and the role of LUS in Lafayette's development and current prosperity. Back then they entered the most demanding technical field of their day and for 100 years have successfully competed against the largest private regional providers of electricity. I'm confused as to why you would think this new challenge shouldn't have exactly the same outcome.

You say LUS wants to "enter into the telecommunications industry to compete against the incumbent service providers." This just isn't true in a strict sense. They want to provide a telecommunications infrastructure that no one else will provide _to the people of Lafayette_. I don't think I'm picking nits here--the difference in motivation is the difference between being arrogant (as you cast them) and having a service orientation--which I contend is the natural attitude of a good local utility. Which is what LUS is by your own admission.

Surely you recognize that we do elect representatives to represent us? It isn't suspicious for them to want to do their job. They approved a much larger bond issue for LUS just a few weeks earlier as a routine matter. As to your feelings of being ignored and impugned: I watched those meetings and no one one the council or the administration "impugned" you or Bill. Really, that's not fair. You got a lot of support for your effort there and even some scolding of the audience by the council when your claims raised murmurs of disbelief in the techy quarters of the audience. (At times, I confess, some of those murmurs were mine). You got a fair and, in the eyes of many, more than fair, hearing. You just weren't as convincing as the advocates. Really this isn't the sort of claim you should be making.

The problem with a vote is, as I am sure you must realize, that if this issue would go to a vote the incumbents would have a radically unfair advantage. (Mike's response has more detail) They've been willing to lie and treat us like children in order to make a little extra money. I get the feeling that some people feel that when a corporation lies, tries to make people fearful, uncertain and doubtful about things which objectively are simply factual that it is somehow ok because they are pursuing profit. It's "expected." I think that attitude is poisonous and wrong. Lying is worse when its done under the cover of some sort of righteous excuse. On that: no quarter. The incumbents have behaved dishonorably. They deserve our contempt and nothing more. I invite you to join me in that condemnation.

I have to join Mike in saying that I think it disingenuous of you to claim that a signature on your petition has any other effect than to position the signatory as an accomplice in stopping LUS' fiber optic project. That is the effect it would have. That is the effect you want it to have. Neither you nor Bill (the only two public faces on the project) would vote for the current plan. You want to halt it. Don't deceive signatories that this is some sort of earnest good government petition. The fact of the matter is that LUS is your only chance of getting an open network. And the only time is now. Block it now and another, private, monopolist that you can never hope to control will take it over. If you really want a structurally separated system built and maintained by LUS your only hope, ever, is to back LUS now and fight for that later. Be honest with yourself and others. That all caps plea is dishonest, even if you didn't realize it before you took the position. Maybe your idealism or ideology leads you to believe there ought to be another choice. But this is the real world and there is not.

You can't hope to try and limit the discussion during a debate to some faux issue of a public vote alone. I won't do it and no honest partisan would for the reasons outlined in the paragraph above. You have to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions. Folks like Mike and I do that regularly. Might we wish there was a fantasy world in which different patterns were possible? Sure. I've got lots of candidates for happy fantasies. I even struggle to realize some of them. But I recognize, and act, in the real world. The biggest reason to refuse to sign the petition is that it dishonestly pretends that it will not have the effect of damaging the fiber project. It will. I hate the idea because I am utterly convinced the project will succeed and bring more benefit to my home than almost any I can imagine. No, limiting the debate is not acceptable.

I suppose I am willing to be civil, if you count the above as civil. (I do.) But I think a little anger and absolutely straight talking is healthy. I'll happily get less than civil if I become convinced that you or the group you represent is being dishonest with the people of Lafayette. (My current take is that you are not there...yet. But that the temptation for a true believer is great.)

---My "So Whaddaya Want?" posts are largely inspired by your and Bill's positions. I've had some good, long talks with Bill and look forward to more. I'd be curious as to how you'd or he would respond to those posts.

(end comments material)

Ok, that's the current state of the debate. I'd love to hear from folks in the comments. What do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing response from both you and Mike. Great post