By Scott Sullivan
Divided We Stand
Saugatuck Township is under fire by some Douglas and Saugatuck city leaders for its unilateral actions as a fire district member.
These criticisms are legitimate. So are concerns that the township pays nothing for cities-funded Saugatuck-Douglas Police work within its boundaries.
Another bone of contention: the township has not lent fiscal or numeric support — 57.7 percent of the tri-communities’ population, 85.3 percent of its total land area— to Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority efforts.
Trouble is, it is not so easy. The township has reasons, too, it can justify. Many —surprise — have to do with money.
Cities and townships have different tax structures. General-fund services city residents expect/require, in town- ships, separate millages. Good luck getting voters — rural or urban — to OK tax hikes.
Our city halls aren’t in lockstep either. Why is Saugatuck city not playing ball with bike trail plans backed by Douglas and the township? Why is Saugatuck city conducting a separate study/survey of police services administered by Douglas but paid for by both cities? Some Douglas council members have openly criticized the study/survey’s methodology.
Here is a wild guess: Results will show Saugatuck residents want more say in, and to pay less for, police service than they now do. Ball’s in your court, Douglas.
As for a joint public safety authority — one that serves all three governments with fire and police protection under a single administration, a la the fire district? Good luck with the politics, much less money, of making that work.
One answer — consolidate all three governments — was tried and failed miserably four years ago. The campaign to unite us was as divisive as any I’ve seen.
The Preamble to the United States Constitution set a tone for the nation that followed: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union …”
More perfect? Sounds like kind of pregnant. Either it is or isn’t, you are or aren’t. Were our Founding Fathers stupid or did they set the bar low on purpose?
We all have legitimate, different interests. Starting small, I see it in myself between minutes and situations. Ditto our cities, township and 50 states in an imperfect union whose motto, E Pluribus Unum, means “out of many, one.”
Dividing lines help us define and distinguish ourselves. Still, no wo/man is an island. Our identities draw on others with whom we identify. You’re an iconoclast? Me too. Like the legions who’ve gone before us.
Those who think there can be a perfect union have not been married. After 23 years, my wife and I keep lowering our standards.
Same for the tri-communities. We can and must work together despite our differences — and because of them. When we demand that our partners conform to our standards, it does them and us a disservice. All that’s in our domain is how we conform ourselves.
Back to the fire flap. The township has every reason, right and even responsibility to review and revise its bylaws. What we had was a failure to communicate. The township passed changes affecting partners outside its boundaries who don’t buy into them — firefighters in particular. The township board’s 3-2 vote to approve cost-recovery changes caused partners confusion and resentment. Our union, or district, is less perfect as a consequence.
How common is lack of communication? I can say, as someone who supposedly works in the business, it happens inside our walls all the time. We are human too. It’s what does us all in.
To build bridges where there are gulfs, let’s try this: Before we say something, think how listeners will receive it. The old Golden Rule bit. Project them into us as well as us into them.
So we find sharing in our separateness and unity in community. Easy, huh?