When the Cape Charles Mirror published this letter, while we hoped the response would be different, it was instead what we expected. While it turned out to be the usual clowns to the left and jokers on the right, we were at least hoping to find a tiny glimmer of intelligence somewhere in the middle. That search is still ongoing. While we agree with most that Mr. Hogg’s heart may have been in the right place, that is hardly an excuse for his engagement with ESRH. This lapse, like so many other things we are seeing in Northampton, appears to have its roots in the phantasm created by the departure of Riverside Shore Memorial-as the hospital prepares to leave, it seems to be taking all rationality with it.
The current EMS debacle is a case in point. Certainly, the County has “kicked this can down the road” for much too long, to the point EMS is asking for budget increases up to $800k, all while we are staring a $3 million dollar shortfall right in the face. This led to a dubious and probably illegal meeting (#FOIA violation) attended by some of the BoS to try and figure a way out of this Gordian knot. Out of the shadows emerged the infamous RFP which broached the prospect of a semi or fully privatized emergency medical service. Despite prostrations by the BoS that this is not what they meant to do, for those of us raised by Italian grandmothers, and were warned, “Whenever a man says he never meant something, you can be sure that’s exactly what he meant”, we cringed a little. As did almost everyone involved in county EMS.
The thought of the hospital leaving has made everyone in Northampton a little bit crazy. The irrationality surrounding the new Rural Health facility in Eastville certainly speaks to that. While the location may not be ideal, for a facility like that, they probably did the best they could with the resources they had- the bottom line is they only needed 5 acres, hardly the 30 Hogg was offering off the highway. Traffic is a concern, but, what part of 13 doesn’t have traffic concerns? On the flip side, a shiny new medical facility visible to all the many prospective northern retirees traveling through, many of whom the county hopes to attract (#Cape Charles), may offer its own benefits. Is it too late to lobby VDOT for a turn lane (#common sense)?
Obsessing over traffic when the overriding need is modern up to date medical services highlights the county’s seeming inability to focus, or at least define the problem. The embarrassing events surrounding the latest versions of the zoning ordinance, both 2015 and 2016 should give all of us pause. After two years of whining, back and forth, bitching, moaning, contortions, and gnashing of teeth, how bad did the 2015 zoning turn out, really? It seems the cleaner, more agile document could have been worked a little a bit more, sweating out and exorcising the remaining devils in the detail, re-factoring, inching forward, leaving us with a bench mark, a starting point that’s not already eight years old.
The problem was again an inability to focus in the shadow of Shore Memorial moving on, what some viewed as Northampton’s version of Chernobyl. Postmodern philosophers and cultural critics have come to realize that there are no privileged stances, no universal perspectives, only different points of view. The county doesn’t seem to get that. The whole yellow shirt vs. plain shirt dichotomy is patently ridiculous, right out of Mad Magazine. Of course, each side will blame the other, yet the whole dysfunctional carnival finds its roots in a fear-frozen foundationless process. On one side, there was the constant mantra that there was not enough public input, not enough reliance on data and reports. I work in the software industry, and most of us will tell you that a little bit of public input goes a long way. Data overload, or nursing a product through mounds of sometimes irrelevant data can also be crippling. What is important is feedback on the product, which can be used to refine and polish. There is a difference between input and feedback.
Here’s the problem.
The county instead opted to rely more on the professional staff to build the product. However, there wasn’t an adequate framework to build upon. While minimizing public input and data while building the product is a pretty fundamental approach, where input is critical is in the design stage, in this case, creating a robust and agile Comprehensive Plan. This is the end state, based on what the users say they want (#input), and fused with all the research and data that has been compiled. After taking input and infusing data, the Comp Plan should be refactored mercilessly until a clear and distilled end state is defined. The question for the 2015 zoning, and now the 2016 zoning, is how can you adopt an ordinance that is not built on a current framework, which adequately describes a current, relevant and preferred end state?
Franklin Roosevelt’s metaphor, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” describes the fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. The fear of losing the hospital has created a stasis, and inability to think and move, and has led to an environment of divisiveness and stupidity. The political turmoil of the last two years, fueled by fear and an inability to focus has set this county back at least ten years. It is time to let it go; the hospital left for a good reason, mainly the census could no longer support it. None of us will probably ever see a hospital in Northampton in our life times. So what? The landscape, defined in space and time determines our way forward. That is, support fundamental primary care expansion, shore up EMS, and push forward on creating a robust critical care network at strategic points in the county. Oh, and finish the Comprehensive Plan, one that hopefully bridges a divide, providing for rural protections as well as eco-friendly growth that expands and fuels the fundamental economic engines of aquaculture, agriculture and tourism. Time to stop bickering and fooling around, to stop being stricken and paralyzed, unable to commit and go for it, like surfers too hesitant and tentative to drop in- time go big or go home.