By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
As a mischievous six-year-old, I accidentally caused the axle of my Tonka
dump truck to become wound into the long, previously uncut, virgin hair of
Angelia, my four-year-old sister. Motivated only by a sense of obligation
to help relieve my sister's discomfort, I used my pocketknife to extract the
dump truck from my beloved sibling. I'm sure you believe that it never
crossed my mind that I might be able to hide this accident from my mother.
I tried to do the right thing, but possibly for the wrong reason.
I thought of this as I pondered the 'penny for parks' proposal facing our
community. (This plan would amend the Knoxville city charter to require
setting aside $250,000 each year for parks and historic preservation.)
Parks and public nature areas ought to be maintained, just as someone needed to
amputate that small piece of construction equipment from my little sister's
head. But there is often a better way to accomplish a laudable goal.
This is certainly true of funding the maintenance of Knoxville's fantastic park
and greenway system. And, like the added possible benefit of hiding my
mischievousness from my mother, there is an outside possibility that some people
involved in the 'penny for parks' discussion may be motivated by issues and
desires other than just playgrounds and open spaces.
(The historic preservation component of the proposed charter amendment has
been practically ignored in the little public discourse, and it may be the most
politically motivated part of the plan. It is also a potential victim to
the law of unintended consequences.)
It would be immoral to allow our parks to fall into a state of
dis-maintenace. Voters are responsible for electing people who share this
view. But legally segregating a portion of the city's tax base is the
wrong way to accomplish this worthy goal. If you use the logic that parks
and historic preservation are vital to our community and we should ensure they
aren't neglected by future city councils, why not do the same for road
paving? More people use city roads than parks. Shouldn't we
guarantee a percentage of our tax base for asphalt? What about police and
fire protection? Can small community grants be far behind? If we
don't codify municipal support for the Sequoyah Hills Residents' Kick Boxing
Klub, who will support it?
It is slightly possible that good and passionate people on both sides of this
argument might be motivated by concerns in addition to their care for
parks. Politics makes for strange bedfellows ' and enemies.
My sister needed the toy removed from her hair. But there was a much
better method than a six-year-old with a knife. My chosen solution was
dangerous and had potential unintended long-term consequences, like this
proposed charter amendment.
The amount of money involved in the Penny for Parks proposal is relatively
miniscule in the scope of the city's budget. But the precedent amounts to
budgeting by referendum. Don't forget the old adage that a zebra is simply
a horse that was designed by a committee.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a
Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article
originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).