In a town the size of Harlem, it is inevitable that there sometimes will seem to be conflicts between public officials and those officials' private interests.
For example, county commissioner and former Harlem mayor Scott Dean and his family own a restaurant in the city. Naturally, any public actions affecting the business will draw more scrutiny. It goes with the territory.
City officials, then, are taking the right tack with open discussions about whether to purchase a piece of property from Mayor Bobby Culpepper. And Culpepper is right to stay out of those talks.
A decision to buy the property shouldn't be made because it belongs to Culpepper. Likewise, however, city officials shouldn't balk at buying the land just because Culpepper owns it. Perception is important, but misperception should not be allowed to stand in the way of a good decision.
Whether to buy the property at all, though, is what city leaders should seriously debate.
City officials say they'd move the public safety office to the highly visible site at Louisville and Milledgeville roads, which already has a building that easily could house fire trucks. Part of the rationale for the move, they say, is that the current public safety office is "within a train wreck from the railroad tracks," says Dean.
Of all the motivations for the move, however, that's pretty weak. Trains have been chugging through the middle of Harlem for more than 100 years without incident. If officials are legitimately worried about their safety, they'd better let Grovetown know; its entire city complex sits near the same rail line.
There's also the issue of whether the city should remove a highly visible corner from the tax books. Right now, Harlem Farm Supply operates a successful business from the site it leases from Culpepper; if the city owned the site, it no longer would generate property and sales taxes.
For those reasons, then, city officials who started debating this issue long before Culpepper was in office - two mayors ago, in fact - should continue a go-slow approach. It also might not hurt, if they really think a new public safety site is needed, to bring in someone from outside the city to independently evaluate possible locations.
After that, they can make a decision with a clear conscience - and with reassurance to city residents that it's the right one.
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