'Penny' plan could have bad results

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
June 20, 2004

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).

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