By Dalton Roberts
A man once sought my counsel when he was considering running for mayor, and I could see that he was full of fears and trepidations. I did not encourage him. The last thing we need is a mayor who is afraid of making a mistake.
How much of what we have achieved here in the renaissance of Chattanooga would have been possible if our mayors and other leaders had been afraid of mistakes?
When talk of the Tennessee Aquarium began, I was on the "Morning Show" with Helen Hardin, and almost all of the called-in questions related to my support for "Jack's fish tank." Yes, that's what it was called for quite a while, and anyone who supported it was considered a blithering idiot.
One of the nastiest letters I received in 16 years blasted me for planning a convention and trade center. Can you imagine a dynamic town like Chattanooga without one?
A mayor must act to make things happen. He cannot sit around in a cold sweat afraid he might make a mistake.
Nothing would have been accomplished since the dawn of civilization if everyone had been afraid to make a mistake. We'd all still be in caves, afraid to go out for fear someone would drop a rock on our heads.
Under the old county form of government, Frank Newell was a councilman. One day, chatting with me at my garden, he said, "It's a shame that we can't make a business park at Bonny Oaks. Two rail lines running through it, five minutes from the airport -- all kinds of commercial advantages. But we would all be strung up if we suggested such a thing. That children's home is untouchable."
Bear in mind that this was a time of great job loss in Chattanooga. The number of manufacturing jobs we lost due to failure to upgrade our technology and compete with foreign manufacturers was mind-boggling. So the first County Commission and I had the audacity to not only make a business park there, creating hundreds of good jobs, but we used the profits from the sale of land to vastly improve children's services. Fear of making a mistake would have killed both the park and the children's services.
There's not a thing wrong with politics in this town and nation that some people who are unafraid of making mistakes couldn't cure. The political polarization could be cured by some project-by-project bipartisan agreements.
How can I say that? Because everything we have done in Chattanooga was a joint effort of Democrats and Republicans. Getting the land from the federal government where VW built came through Commissioner Harold Coker working with Republican Rep. Robin Beard in the House and Democrats working with Sen. Jim Sasser in the Senate and Rep. Marilyn Lloyd in the House. It was a bipartisan thing locally and in Washington. My purpose is not to boast of the work we did but to show that some very important things would not have happened if fear of failure and partisan politics had dominated local thought.
When tentativeness and fear of failure dominate a person's mind, they cannot move a great town forward. We must have bold people with bold ideas.
Where are they?
Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.