An old but wise saying goes something like this: Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. We thought about that saying as we read how Clayton officials plan to visit each of the town’s 33 neighborhoods to hear residents’ concerns and wish lists for fixes.
It’s not that we think the neighborhood meetings are a bad idea. To the contrary, the initiative speaks well of the Town Council and the staff at Town Hall. But we hope the town’s elected leaders and staff realize how much is at stake in the neighborhood meetings.
Residents of Clayton’s 33 neighborhoods are likely to come to the meetings with real needs – more and better streetlighting, new or repaired sidewalks, pothole fixes, greater police presence, pocket parks for neighborhoods far removed from Clayton Community Park, demolition or repair of rundown houses. The list could go on and on.
And when neighborhood residents let town leaders know their wishes, they will expect action, and rightly so. Which means Clayton leaders must be ready and willing to deliver.
Some of the fixes will be easy and affordable. Fixing potholes, for example, is neither hard nor expensive. But some items on the wish lists could prove pricey or otherwise hard to bring about. A greater police presence in a troubled neighborhood could require more manpower and, therefore, more tax dollars. Building a pocket park in a remote neighborhood would no doubt be expensive, with the need to purchase land and playground equipment.
Such improvements could have political costs too, which is to say that a tax increase to make improvements in one neighborhood might not sit that well with voters in other neighborhoods.
It’s true that a neighborhood might balk upon hearing the cost of needed improvements, but we’re not sure that would let town leaders off the hook. After the town holds a neighborhood meeting, residents will expect results, and it might not matter if the expectations are unrealistic.
And therein lies the risk to town leaders and town staff. If they don’t produce results, they will lose their credibility with taxpayers, and the Town Council and town staff can ill-afford that.