In a world shot through with cynicism, elected officials sometimes are cast as pawns beholden to special interests, while government employees - especially those dealing with such idealistic tasks as environmental regulations - are portrayed as impartial paragons of virtue.
Time for a reality check. If you want to see just how bureaucrats can instead represent sand in the gears of progress, look no further than the long-awaited Columbia County campus of Augusta Technical College.
The politicians did their jobs from the start. Columbia County's development authority and county commission donated the land for the Tech campus. Then the county's legislative delegation pushed endlessly to persuade the state officials to bring a tech campus here, and lawmakers then worked further to earmark funding for the campus in state budgets.
The stars all seemed to align last September, when at long last a crowd of public officials and business leaders gathered on the site to take up gold shovels and ceremonially break ground for the new school. The announced plan at the time was that construction would begin soon after.
Yet here we are, more than half a year later, and those ceremonial shovels-full of dirt are the only ones turned on the project.
Well, bring out the bureaucrats. County officials first had to work out some paper-shuffling to change the route of a road coming into the site. And to get approval for the new plans, they had to check with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - among some of the nation's less-hurried bureaucrats - simply because the road touched "wetlands."
As an aside: What does this say about the state of our union when a Georgia county has to seek approval from a federal agency just to build a driveway?
Still more state bureaucrats are now putting together plans to send the $6.3 million project out to construction bidders. That, says Augusta Technical College President Terry Elam, will probably take until June. Accepting those bids and starting actual construction - cross your fingers - should then be ready to start by July or August.
With construction predicted to take about 18 months, and barring any further unexpected delays, that means Columbia County's Augusta Tech campus will perhaps be ready for students by March 2010 - or some 12 years since the project was first started.
Sure, better late than never - but good grief. Let's hope this show is finally on the road, and the bureaucrats will stay out of the way.
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