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Opinion column: The Battle at Lingle

Modified: Wednesday, Jan 22nd, 2014




There were many newsworthy highlights in Goshen County in 2013: the Lone Tree Canyon Road petition, SF 104 (better known as the Hill Bill), the passing of several respected Goshen County residents and, not least of all, the battle over the YMCA.

The YMCA saga can be best described as a battle, since it has not been definitively reported that the war is over. The drama created by allowing a popular vote on a special-use tax for building a recreational center radicalized some residents into factions, divided friends and families, involved mudslinging and name calling and generated more editorials than any other issue during the year.

And the battle waged throughout the county: there was the Skirmish in LaGrange, the Reenforcement at Yoder, various encounters, scraps and clashes throughout the county and, ultimately, the Battle in Lingle.

Even now, as victory has been declared by the anti-YMCA contingent, the commentary and debate continues, strong indications that though the battles of 2013 have been concluded, the war is far from over.

Some have called the council members in Lingle, who decisively ended the “to-vote-or-not-to-vote” referendum for the 2014 general election, dictators, narrow-minded, short-sighted or worse. Personally, I have to commend the council, whether I agree with the decision or not, for voting its conscience.

As current state statutes are structured, the decision for allowing a vote on a special-use tax lies with the town councils and county commission members that represent the constituents within their jurisdictions. The Lingle Town Council clearly held up its responsibility.

As with most battles, one side wins and one side loses, and usually the side with the strategic advantage wins, and, in the Battle of the Y, clearly the Lingle Town Council held the advantage.

The chess grandmaster Savielly Tartakower explained the difference between strategy and tactics this way: “Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do. Strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.”

Clearly, the strategy of the Lingle Town Council trumped the tactics of the YMCA Joint Powers Board (JPB) and Y supporters. All the council needed to do is maintain its strategic position, reinforced by the authority of Wyoming statutes, and victory was had. The members did what they were called to do, when in fact they faced a situation where they believed there was nothing to do.

Throughout history, there are many stories of the underdog rising to the occasion and, though faced with overwhelming odds, snatching victory from preordained defeat: the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, the confederate victory at Chancellorsville, the allied victory at Midway, not to mention the 1969 Miracle Mets.

Unfortunately, the tactics of the JBP fell well short of being added to the list. Their mission to sway just one additional Lingle council member, either through formidable informational propaganda or political pressure in order to claim victory, proved inadequate.

Tactically, the JPB made several errors in their efforts to bring recreation to the masses. First, it had no effective propaganda campaign. There were no public meetings held to discuss the benefits and costs of a Y, very little discussion of the success of Y’s in similar Wyoming communities and no concerted effort to bring the discussion to a personal level, to the individuals who would use and most benefit from a Y.

No matter who the audience is, everyone wants to know what’s in it for them before letting someone else reach in their pocket. One tactic might have been to have directors and members from Wyoming YMCA’s come and discuss the importance a Y has been to their communities.

Another would have been to have those who could have

benefited from a Y, such as students, patients, therapists, National Guard and prison personnel, explain why a Y would be beneficial.

And, finally, the JPB, in my opinion, never satisfactorily answered the pervasive questions of cost. The anti-Y group consistently asked how the costs of maintaining a Y would be handled, since clearly membership dues alone would probably not cover those costs.

It should have been easily explained that costs could have also been offset by lease agreements with schools, Eastern Wyoming College and other organizations interested in using the Y for their activities. Additional revenues could be generated through class fees, program fees, league fees and an annual fundraiser.

Again, the JPB propaganda should have included a wide swath of county residents, rather than just a select few who happened to sit on various town councils. It is the will of the people that elected officials represent, but not enough of the county’s voters were brought into the process to generate the political pressure needed to sway just one vote.

One of the arguments heard time and time again is, “Why should I pay for something I won’t use?” An interesting argument since most of the costs of sewer and water systems in towns in the county were made possible by taxpayers, most of whom will not use a toilet or take a drink of water in those towns.

Personally, I use very little electricity when I’m in Lingle, though they recently received taxpayer money to install a redundant electrical system for the town. Likewise, the recreation center that LaGrange has in their remodeled community center. And those two are just a few of the numerous projects funded throughout the county by taxpayers who don’t live where those projects are located.

Most of the tax monies used for those projects have to be approved by a majority of the governing bodies in the county, just like the referendum for the vote on a Y. And, in the merciless business of politics, often what goes around, comes around.

The JPB said they will continue to look for other options, including reintroducing the resolution in the future or affecting legislative measures, to push forward with a Goshen County recreational facility. No matter what direction they choose to take, it would be wise to reevaluate their tactics and come up with a comprehensive strategy pushing forward.

Objectively speaking, the Lingle Town Council fulfilled its statutorily prescribed duties with regard to approving or disapproving a resolution to allow a special-use tax vote county-wide. It was the JPB who came up short in fighting a battle that was clearly stacked against it.

Hopefully, lessons have been learned and strategies reconsidered as the battle continues through the upcoming legislative session, a 2014 general election and future taxpayer-funded projects that benefit the few.

All we need now is battle hymn and flag that we can rally around.

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