One of the qualities that traditionally has distinguished Columbia County from its often-less-genial neighbor to the east is that public officials here generally work out their differences with little ill will.
But with county officials' inexplicably hard push for consolidation, the ugliness that mars our neighbor's government is threatening to rear its head here, too.
"Threatening" is the operative word. Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross' recent success in getting Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau's "hesitant" support for county consolidation sounds less like gentle persuasion than a threat to choke off the city's residential growth.
Cross doesn't see it that way, of course. He explains that the county will be able to provide additional sewer capacity for Grovetown if the city supports consolidation, thereby creating new revenue to help pay for more infrastructure.
Trudeau says only that he reversed his opposition to consolidation because he sees it as necessary for city growth. One of his council members, George James, is less polite; he says Trudeau's reluctant cave-in followed "ultimatums" from Cross that fast-growing Grovetown won't be able to hook up new homes to the county's sewer system if the city refuses to support consolidation.
City officials in Grovetown and Harlem had already been worried that the consolidation plan would prevent the cities from spreading by annexing land. This offer-they-can't-refuse raises a new worry: that the county is either trying to buy support for consolidation, or scare the cities into it.
Either way is troubling. Commissioners are going to have an uphill fight to win approval for consolidation if it appears they can only gain supporters by paying them off.
If consolidation is such a great idea, commissioners shouldn't need gimmicks to sell it. And if they expect other public officials to join a sales pitch leading up to voter approval, they should be able to attract support without bribes or threats.
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