Lofty goals have their place, and prudent, long-range planning is to be recommended.
But among the most important questions municipal governments confront are basic, immediate ones: Are people safe to walk downtown at night? Can motorists negotiate the streets without slaloming around potholes? Is garbage carted away before it piles up curbside?
Such problems are never really completely solved, of course. They require diligence and many thankless tasks. Competence and efficiency in handling those jobs won't get a statue erected or a building named in your honor. Plaudits are reserved for architects, not janitors, even though both are important.
To the extent elected officials and municipal staff are like most folks -- they are motivated by recognition and hope their good names survive them -- it is understandable they long to operate in the arena of big ideas. It also stands to reason that at annual retreats last week -- the type of events designed to promote big ideas -- the Beaufort City Council and the Beaufort Redevelopment Commission touted ambitious plans and pledged to trudge through opposition to fulfill them.
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But Mayor Billy Keyserling waxed a bit grandiose when he proclaimed the city is in "year two in a 100-year plan." And Councilman Mike Sutton was definitely too dismissive when he said that organizations that "aren't on the bus" should be considered hostile to that plan and ignored.
Consider that 100 years ago, the military presence in Beaufort amounted to a Navy coaling station on Parris Island, where the first Marine had not yet been trained. Shellfishing was a burgeoning industry, not a dying one. No one had conceived of -- in Beaufort or elsewhere -- such transforming devices as the jet engine, personal computer or cellphone.
With this in mind, we surely would not bind ourselves to details of a master plan developed by civic leaders a century ago.
It is no less presumptuous to suppose that we can write prescriptions for city residents a century from now. .
This is not an argument against dreams, progress or striving. For that matter, it's not an argument against a mayor with aspirations for his hometown or a councilman who doesn't cower in the face of opposition. Like lofty goals, they have their place.
But it is a reminder that we are not solely dependent upon government's divine inspiration to lead us forward. That's fortunate because, frankly, filling potholes and keeping criminals off the street for the next five years is chore enough for municipalities without designing every detail of the next 95.
Our best gift to the next century will not be a foot-thick document filled with the planning jargon or even public works that could be antiquated by then.
Municipal government serves future generations well by passing to them healthy finances, a clean environment and the freedom to let them govern themselves.