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EDAC should control Home Depot impact studies

M. John Fayhee, Economic Development Advisory Committee, Frisco

RE: Getting to know Home Depot (SDN Sept. 26)As a member of both the Frisco Economic Development Advisory Committee and the Frisco Recreation, Open Space and Trails Committee (neither of which I speak for here), I would like to respond to Keely Brown’s story on the front page of your 26 Sept. issue (Getting to Know Home Depot). One of the basic tenets of the journalistic coverage of governmental entities – to the point that it is axiomatic – is: He who pays the piper calls the tune. Trite sounding, yes, but overwhelmingly true. Bearing that in mind, it behooves the residents of Frisco to have several concerns based upon Ms. Brown’s article, as it will be Home Depot paying the pipers who will be conducting the survey and performing the environmental and traffic studies – even though the people quoted in that article claim the work will be “independent.” Rare is the survey process that is not biased on at least two levels. Surveys are almost always biased in their wording (which is generally designed to elicit desired results) and the “information?” gleaned from them is almost always interpreted in a biased manner. A contextual example comes from the town of Frisco’s very first Community Attitude Survey, which was conducted, I believe, in about 1992. This was back when the town government wanted a golf course on the Peninsula as badly as the current town government wants Home Depot on the 9.4 acres. One of the questions on the first draft of Community Attitude Survey was something like, “Would you rather be kicked in the gonads by an irate mule, or would you rather have a golf course?”The survey wording, once outed (by me, in the Summit Daily News), was pulled before the fact by a red-faced town staff and rewritten before ever being circulated. The golf course questions were, shall we say, modified. Had the survey been released in its original form, the biased wording would have been interpreted such that the town could have said, “Look, the people of Frisco want a golf course!”Similarly, a survey question about Home Depot could be worded, “Would you rather have to step over the bloated corpses of dead old people stacked like cord wood in the middle of Main Street, or would you rather have Home Depot?” Similarly, responses would be interpreted such that the town could say, “Look, the people of Frisco want a Home Depot!”Sure, the actual wording and interpretation of the impending Home-Depot-funded “independent” survey will be much more insidious than those admittedly hyperbolic examples, but you can bet the farm it will slanted to that degree. If you remain skeptical, then ask yourself why there is even talk by Home Depot and the town of performing a survey, unless the intent is to premeditatedly accumulate argumentative ammunition in favor of Home Depot. Neither Home Depot nor the town will risk performing a survey that has any chance whatsoever of coming back with anything save the desired results. Next, the voters of Frisco ought to be concerned about the “independent” environmental and traffic studies that will, once again, be funded by Home Depot. Is there anyone out there who believes for even an instant that those studies will produce any results save those favorable to Home Depot? On the slight chance that results do come back that are even slightly unfavorable toward Home Depot, then Jeff Oberg, as quoted in Ms. Brown’s story, has already set himself up for seemingly positive, sympathetic action when he says, “We’re going to listen to what the town has to say. We want to mitigate any concerns anyone might have.” In the context of the survey and the traffic and environmental studies, this means: “If the amount of traffic our store will produce makes you instinctively search for a barf bag, we will present to the town a way to cut that by, oh, as much as 5 percent, and we will look like we’re bending over backwards to deal with the situation. See what good people we are!” The mere mention of the word “mitigate” should cause the people of Frisco to run out and buy knee-high rubber boots, as the doo-doo is likely to start getting mighty deep. So, how are these concerns best addressed? I propose that the entire survey and traffic and environmental study processes be handed off to a third party, in this case, the Frisco Economic Development Advisory Committee. No one could accuse EDAC of being biased against Home Depot, as that committee voted 8-3 in favor of recommending to the town council that the Home Depot proposal be placed upon the ballot. No matter, as I believe, as a member of EDAC, that the committee is made up of honorable people who would demand an honest and unbiased examination of traffic and environmental impacts, as well as an honest, unbiased survey. I believe EDAC should choose the firms that conduct the survey and the traffic and environmental studies. I think EDAC ought to be involved in the wording and interpretation of the survey, and ought to be part of the traffic and environmental study process from soup to nuts. I think the town government and Home Depot ought to have no influence whatsoever on those processes, that the town government and Home Depot ought know nothing whatsoever about what’s being surveyed and studied until the moment when the results are released to the public. It is my guess that EDAC would honestly and dispassionately be able to protect whatever information is reasonably deemed proprietary. Only under those, or similar circumstances, should the voters of Frisco believe so much as a syllable that comes from those studies and surveys. I have spent my entire adult life covering small-town governments for various newspapers, including this one, and I stress to the people of Frisco that many red flags are flying over the reality Ms. Brown presents in her story. There is ample opportunity for bias made manifest into policy, and many of us have a very specific word for that potentiality: corruption. Let’s demand as a citizenry that every aspect of what will most certainly be a divisive and contentious process be unabashedly above-board. Pain me though it does to say this, but I am not inclined at this point to believe in the ability of the town government, focused as it is on getting Home Depot into Frisco, to behave dispassionately, and neither, I humbly suggest, should you.


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