Looking ahead in 2021
In ancient Roman mythology, the god Janus, for whom the month January is named, was the god of doorways and other transitions. Images depict him with two faces, one looking forward and the other back.
January is the doorway providing access to the new year. While remnants and issues from the past year still linger, 2021 brings with it new challenges and opportunities.
Looking ahead in 2021, the key word for the coming year is access. Access is something taken for granted when people have it, but is a barrier to personal, economic and community growth when it is denied.
The following points of access will be major areas that policy makers and community members will need to address in the coming months.
Access to technology
Information is the gold standard of the modern world economy, impacting every facet of business and industry from the transportation of raw materials, to the delivery of finished goods.
Much like railways of the 19th century and the highways of the 20th century, infrastructure is the difference between growth and stagnation for communities. The maps are littered with dots and place names that are all that remain of once-thriving communities who were bypassed by commerce because the highway or railways ignored them. By contrast communities that became hubs grew and continue to reap those benefits.
Access to affordable high speed internet is to modern communities what the railroad was to communities 130 years ago. With its sparse population Taylor County has been a backwater for access.
But the county is not passively waiting for private companies to get around to building the infrastructure needed for this access. More than a year ago, the county board created a committee, under the leadership of Mike Bub, to explore options for bringing access to all areas of the county. Last spring, board members voted to spend the millions of dollars needed to help build a middle-mile network that will open the door for communication access in this area and provide technological tools that people in large urban areas take for granted. This expansion of technology infrastructure will open new opportunities when it comes to education, economic development and quality of life.
As reported in this week’s issue of The Star News, the county has selected a company to partner for the project with the goal of having systems in place and up and running before the end of 2021.
Access to housing
Taylor County’s factories, farms and businesses need workers.
The need for these workers is two-fold. The county, like much of rural America, is rapidly turning gray as the demographics continue to skew older and people leave the workforce. At the same time, local companies are looking to expand and bring opportunities for new growth.
Access to appropriate and affordable housing remains a barrier to growth in the area. A young person or family coming to the area for a factory job is not in a position to buy a home right away and there are limited options when it comes to renting suitable housing.
The city of Medford is taking steps to actively seek additional housing through a federal and state tax credit program. Beyond that, local officials must take a long, hard look at their developer codes and the rules in place which potentially hinder residential development from taking place.
Just as local governments work in partnership with industry and business for economic growth, there needs to be that same level of partnership when it comes to creating opportunities for residential growth. Specifically at a price point that is affordable to entry-level employees and young families.
While primarily beneficial to large employers, this sort of investment will reap benefits for decades to come as young people become established, raise families and contribute to the community.
Access to voting
On the state and national stage, there has been a renewal of efforts to limit voting access. The rhetoric in the months since the November 2020 election has included suggestions to restrict the use of absentee ballots, attempts to have the court rewrite election rules after the ballots have been counted and impose further barriers to those attempting to exercise their most basic right.
In a democracy, the voters choose the government. However, there are those who would rather the government be able to pick and choose which people they want to have access to voting.
There is a propaganda technique called the Big Lie where repeating a blatant lie over and over gets people to believe that it is true. The Big Lie was at work when Sen. Joe McCarthy held up a piece of paper and lied about it containing the names of communist sympathizers in the government. It is likewise at work when Sen. Ron Johnson repeats unfounded claims of fraud, seeking to undermine faith in the election system. In both cases, it was done with the singleminded goal of putting personal political gains over the will of the people.
Over the coming year there will be many who will propose “reforms” of the election system which will be nothing more than backhanded attempts to disenfranchise voters, particularly voters in poor or minority areas.
Any attempt to undermine the election system and deny people access to voting must be met with swift opposition. Those who would undermine democracy for personal or party gain must be held accountable.
Access to public buildings
In addition to having access to setting policy through the power of the polls, citizens must also have access to the seats of power.
Taylor County Courthouse has been on an appointment-only basis since before Thanksgiving with county meetings and even court business done by electronic means.
The restrictions were put into place due to concerns over a spike in COVID-19 cases in the area. County leadership was rightfully concerned about the continuity of government and the ability to keep running if outsiders brought the virus into the courthouse. While the restrictions make sense on a short-term emergency basis, the longer they remain in place, the more likely they will become permanent using the justification of increasing security. Erecting barriers to citizens having easy access to government buildings is not only a county issue, but also an issue at the municipal and school level. The city of Medford has plans to remodel the city hall’s front office to create additional barriers between the entryway and the rest of the building as a way to improve security.
Under the umbrella of COVID-19 precautions, school buildings largely remain closed to members of the public with non-school use of spaces restricted and even regular access tightly controlled. While these restrictions make sense under the current pandemic, the concern, as always, is having rules made during an emergency situation become the standard long after the emergency has passed.
When it comes to public buildings, members of the public must be assured continued access.