As Columbia City Council is recklessly poised to stick taxpayers with millions of dollars on an open credit card bill for a horribly flawed plan to build a baseball stadium on Bull Street, readers of Free Times might want to reflect on the words of our “build at any cost” mayor.
If you missed Mayor Steve Benjamin’s self-serving letter in Free Times last week (Sound Off, “It’s About More Than Baseball,” Feb. 12), I want to urge you to read it and then think about just how low some elected officials will stoop to distort reality and manipulate facts to sell their own agendas.
I sat through the entire Feb. 4 City Council meeting and witnessed a blatantly biased and well-orchestrated event that would have made Chairman Mao or Joseph Stalin proud. No hearing on the baseball stadium was scheduled on City Council’s agenda, but our media-savvy mayor didn’t let that stop him. Like Fidel at a Havana rally, he greeted each obviously pre-selected speaker by first name. Then he let each speak long as they wanted, extolling Mayor Benjamin’s multimillion-dollar baseball scheme.
Mayor Benjamin was equally as controlling at the only “official” stadium public hearing a few weeks earlier — held at noon, when most working folks couldn’t attend. I was there, too, and thanks to the mayor’s manipulation the public had to endure a promoter’s slick, one-sided PR sales pitch and PowerPoint presentation for nearly two hours. It would have been hours longer if a courageous citizen had not stood up and demanded the people have a right to speak.
Apparently Mayor Benjamin grew up learning a very different concept of public participation and cooperation. Manipulation, intimidation, confidentiality agreements, verbally assailing citizens and elected officials who dare to disagree with him, backroom deals, media pandering and New York-style politics appear to be the mayor’s tools in building “consensus.”
In a mystical metamorphosis to bring Madame Butterfly to tears, Mayor Benjamin’s bombastic baseball stadium has transformed into a life-essential entertainment venue — a multi-purpose facility where Cub Scouts can roast marshmallows while smiling families can join Joe Pinner in singing “Kumbaya” at the next mayor’s Monster Truck Rally to benefit bankrupt strip-mall developers.
Odds are by the time you finish reading this the mayor will be ballyhooing his pet project as a state-of-the art “fully integrated multidimensional civic arena.” He’ll be touting the facility as a modern-day Coliseum where “ignorant” taxpayers who disagree with him will be beaten into submission by baseball-bat wielding developers eager to help the mayor re-educate those citizens foolish enough to ask questions.
Our mayor is undaunted by the growing outcry of opposition from overburdened taxpayers whom he wants to pay for his folly. With no proof whatsoever, he proudly proclaims the Bull Street project will combine with other unspecified forces to totally eliminate unemployment in Columbia. Who needs P.T. Barnum when we have this kind of leadership?
Mayor Benjamin ignores massive amounts of objective academic and economic research demonstrating sports stadiums do virtually nothing to boost local economies. He schedules so-called “forums” before groups he can control and limits opposing views. He introduces those who stand to make millions off taxpayers as experts and mocks those who raise questions about soaring city debt, red-ink finances and skyrocketing costs as lacking vision.
Real leadership comes from a leader who is honestly willing to look at all aspects of an idea and then bring people together, not from one who seeks to divide and frame every issue as For Mayor Benjamin or Against Mayor Benjamin.
This isn’t about Steve Benjamin, economic development or even an ill-conceived multimillion-dollar baseball stadium; it’s about our community’s real and pressing needs. Just because a man thinks he alone has vision doesn’t mean he isn’t blind to the real needs of the people he serves.
Finally someone has come forward to state what is really going on in the back alleys of Richland County politics. I live in Lexington County, and I can smell it all the way over here. The voters in Richland County should be standing on their collective heads in outrage at what continually goes on with no one having to pay for these outrageous deeds.
I also thank Free Times for publishing Mr. Fisher’s column. I don’t think that The State newspaper has the cojones to print it if he submitted it to them.
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