Timing, it's said, is everything. And while the space needs which the city of Brainerd is addressing in its Nov. 7 referendum are very real, the timing on that issue is what will likely lead to its defeat at the polls on Nov. 7.
About two weeks ago, the Brainerd City Council voted to let citizens decide on a $7 million bond issue for the construction of a public safety building and an addition to city hall. It was a decision that surprised most citizens.
While the city council sometimes discusses an issue at a series of council meetings, it had no such luxury in the case of the city space needs referendum. By the time the information was assembled and it was scheduled as an agenda item, the city was only one day away from the Crow Wing County auditor's deadline for placement of the bond issue on the Nov. 7 ballot. A space needs study committee meeting had been looking into the issue for some time but most of the public remained in the dark about the possibility of a referendum on the matter.
There was nothing sinister about the study committee's work on the issue but if that panel had gone a little bit out its way to draw public attention to the fact that a referendum on a major public issue was a possibility it could have solicited some helpful public input on the issue.
Good ideas flourish when they're tested, challenged and examined. Even so-so ideas are often improved by being probed by a fresh set of people with a different perspective. That's why politicians invented the concept of trial balloons many years ago.
Our concern is that too many related questions have not been fully investigated. What about the possibility of sharing facilities with Crow Wing County or Baxter or both? What about the need for a fire substation in Baxter, Unorganized Territory or a location north of the railroad tracks?
While behind-the-scenes work has been done on this referendum our guess is that the public needs more time to mull it over and assure itself that a wide variety of options have been considered.
It's analogous to a spouse who buys camping equipment without fully consulting his or her partner. If the spouse spends $75 on a new tent, it's probably no big deal. If the spouse buys a new recreational vehicle for thousands of dollars, it's a big deal.
The final decision, as always, will be up to voters, but in our view the citizens of Brainerd should vote no on the referendum and revisit the issue after a more thorough and public examination.
Brainerd's space problems aren't going to go away and should be addressed but they deserve more thoughtful attention and public discussion than they've received.
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