Real safety or theatrical safety

At the most recent meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council, a measure to spend $175,000 on an “image campaign” passed by a vote of 5 to 3. It is a rare day that this body’s public policy moves surprise us, but this vote wanders into a whole new realm of political imprudence. At a time when the fire department is critically short-staffed and the police department lacks funds to renovate the historic Joe Thomas Building, this kind of windmill tilting expenditure boggles the mind.

Were we a city fat with cash and growing, the prospect of paying for such an effort might be tenable, but back here on Earth, it makes little sense. Sadly, we’ve been down similar roads before. This story is predictable but avoidable.

Some paid someone will come up with a bold new logo. There’ll be a new website, maybe some social media presence, a few billboards and other glad-handing supports. In the end, it will be little more than a very expensive trip to the theater.

It will not attract businesses. It will not spur growth. It will simply steal money from things that do attract businesses and growth: public safety comes to mind.

Folks are always yammering about “Crime Bluff.” Until such time as we actually have crime on a long-term sustained fall, we can’t afford to subordinate actual safety to the mere appearance of it.

For the first time in a generation, crime statistics are moving in the right direction. We cannot risk that critical momentum in favor of a campaign of frivolous glittering generalities with no actual chance of making one wit of difference.

We applaud those who voted against the measure — council members Thelma Walker, George Stepps and Glen Brown as they got it right to oppose the resolution.

How the other five could have been so beguiled into foolish waste we know not.

The nuts and bolts of the resolution were never debated, never studied — why? We dare say, the council has argued over how to spend a lot less money than $175,000. And as one person pointed out to us, The Alliance has a slick magazine and DVD that touts the whole of Jefferson County. So really, what the council wants to do has already been done.

The effort to launch this campaign has been analogized to putting a new paint job on a car with no transmission. It’s not that we view Pine Bluff as incapable of forward motion — quite the opposite — it’s that we should directly support the actual momentum.

Supporters of the resolution will likely say that we just don’t get it. That we don’t want Pine Bluff’s image to improve or that we’re opponents of progress. It’s not that we don’t get it. It’s that we don’t want it. If the city council is so concerned about Pine Bluff’s image, how come they lack the collective backbone to curtail misused and abandoned property or to keep club hours in check with the values of a working community? How come they allow so many neighborhoods to exist without sidewalks and the streets to stand with water after heavy rains? How come they don’t focus on incentive packages worthy of attracting businesses and truly support the revival of downtown?

They avoid those things because they take actual commitment, not superficial whitewash, a kiss and prayer. This folly may well be this council’s “ice storm.” It certainly is chilling enough.