By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital
February 23, 2003
On my way to work last week, I passed the City County Building, where a
number of orange cones and barrels blocked the usually filled parking spaces
along the street. I slowed and asked a passerby if she knew what was going
"Oh, haven't you heard? We're on orange terrorist alert."
My first thought was that perhaps every city was supposed to place cones and
barrels matching the color of the terror alert on city streets. Then I
remembered that all traffic cones and barrels are orange. And besides, I didn't
see any yellow cones last week when we were at a lower threat level.
But the cones were there to prevent terrorist activity. I can see it
now. A 24 year-old Saudi man in a large rental van drives in from his
Al-Queda training camp in Farragut, ready to blow the City County Building to
smithereens. That is, until he sees the dreaded orange cones blocking his
7,000 pound truck. He drives off, dejected, cursing the infidel
cones. The good guys win again.
I shared this little attempt at satire with a friend in the City County
Building this week. He agreed about the silliness of the cones. (He
said something about Allah being afraid of orange.) But he also quickly
defended the work of the folks who were told to place those cones in the parking
places. And rightfully so.
The Public Building Authority manages many of the municipal facilities in our
community, including the City County Building. They were instructed to put
those cones on the street. As someone who is quick to criticize
governmental entities, I should be just as quick to praise them. I was
once a board member of the PBA and was seldom bashful about my critical
observations in our meetings.
But the entity does good work.
It is easy to point to high profile projects like managing the construction
of a convention center, the Miller's Building or McGhee Tyson Airport. And
those are important, high profile (and high risk) projects. But our
government also builds and runs things we all use every day. Like
libraries. Animal control centers. Parks. My kids love
Volunteer Landing. (I still wonder if the signs with the little "Vs" on
them stand for Volunteer or Victor.) Just last week, my son and I had
dinner at the Riverside Tavern, followed by a stroll along the river to a nifty
little playground adjacent to the riverboat landing. He and his sister
love to see the Three Rivers Rambler train thunder through downtown on the
weekend. (And I love to hear anything louder than two
two-year-olds.) The Knoxville Zoo, another favorite of my entire family,
receives significant funding and other support from Knoxville and Knox
After a column a couple of weeks ago in which I wrote that government never
created a nickel of wealth, a reader took me to task. He opined that
government-run schools create wealth, as do libraries and roads.
Philosophically, I disagree that these entities actually create wealth, but they
certainly improve our quality of life and make it possible for individuals to
create wealth. That's the difficulty in seeing the value of many of our
governmental functions: while most us of never receive a nickel from the
government, we all enjoy the benefits of our communal purchases - buildings,
services and grounds. This is particularly true of local government.
The next time you are walking along a downtown sidewalk, see a snow removal
crew, enjoy the waterfront, visit a library or just go to bed at night,
comfortable in your safety, realize that you are receiving a return of your
local tax dollars.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a
Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article
originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).