Letter to the Sun Re Chris Damon May 6, 2007

By Ross Hunter
With the election for City Council upcoming on May 12th, the Williamson County Sun published its editorial endorsements for the various positions on Wednesday, May 2nd.

However, this year was a little different, for the Sun’s use of its editorial space to present a review of one of the challengers, Chris Damon, in an enthusiastic block of writing that, since it introduced many unproven contentions, was better suited for a feature story than for a supposed last-minute weighing of the race.

The Sun in its summations wrote 52 words about the incumbent (with whom it could find no fault), followed by 348 words in favor of the challenger, Chris Damon.

I wrote a long letter to the Sun of 860 words, to refute its position on Chris Damon, and to challenge some of its actions as a newspaper in printing what it did. This letter was published, edited down to 314 words.

I have to say their version of my letter is nicely edited – I do prefer a punchier letter, and mine was pretty cumbersome (it was a rush job). On the other hand, I was making some challenges to the propriety of the Sun’s editorial. Maybe it was edited purely for brevity, maybe the Sun objected to being challenged by one of its readers.

In the interest of the public record, then, what I set forth following is their edited version of my letter, which they published on May 6th; below that is my full letter as sent to them; and below that is their original editorial, which I was refuting.

So if you’ve a mind to do some reading, or to leave a comment, this is the place :).

The letter as published May 6th

I was disappointed that you used your privileged editorial space to advance new and previously unknown arguments in favor of Chris Damon’s election to City Council (May 2, 2007).

As a younger businessman himself, with two small children, does Chris actually have the time to perform well on the council? As we all know, council members work hard at a pretty full-time responsibility. The advantage Ben Oliver happens to have is his full time, which he can give us as a gift.

For the standard of what we require in a council member, Ben Oliver brings predictability. We’ve watched him for three years do exactly as he said he would, and it’s as certain as it gets in this world that for the next three years he’ll do as he says he will.

This election for council member should hinge on the ability to execute, not the ability to envision. Visionaries can come before the council, which I have found welcomes well prepared, new proposals of potential gain for the city. But on that council should sit people who demonstrate expertise with the nuts and bolts. Everybody has great ideas, but only a very few will ever be made to work.

I look forward with much eagerness to the maturing of Chris Damon, in his long political career in Georgetown. In three years he may get my vote, if he attends to the details, and speaks to me in concrete, material terms. But today he’s unproven, and he campaigns on vague generalizations and philosophy – even the much acclaimed visions are missing. In all responsibility to our own dependents, how can we take this to the bank?

The council, and our city in its current act of perfect balance, do not need an injection of philosophy, but an injection of material, practical, down to earth consensus-building. And proof of claims, including from your newspaper.
[314 words]

The letter in its original form, submitted May 3rd

I was disappointed that you used your privileged editorial space to advance new and previously unknown arguments in favor of Chris Damon’s election to City Council (May 2, 2007). I intend to refute your position completely, and I trust you’ll afford me the space to do this.

First, you cite Chris Damon’s sympathy with small businesses starting up – I admire his undoubted perspective in this respect, but where’s the showing that the current Council is not sympathetic to these interests? No such showing is made.

Furthermore, who says that you have to be on the Council itself to present a new point of view? Again, no logic prevails here. Plenty of advocates bring their views to the Council, and Georgetown it seems to me has always shown a decent receptivity to input, even in the nuts and bolts of City affairs.

Further still, as a younger businessman himself, with two small children, does Chris actually have the time to perform well on the Council? As we all know, Council members work hard at a pretty full-time responsibility. The advantage Ben Oliver happens to have is his full time, which he can give us as a gift. This results in better governance, because the devil is in the practical details, always, and details take time and thought.

For the standard of what we require in a Council member, compare Ben Oliver, who brings predictability. We’ve watched him for three years do exactly as he said he would, and it’s as certain as it gets in this world that for the next three years he’ll do as he says he will. I require this fiduciary trustworthiness in a person who acts as steward to the property values of my district, and my town. Let me explain why I don’t find this same reliability in Chris Damon.

I urged Chris Damon to give up his ideas of an enemy, to stop looking for a fight with some opposing side. I asked him to unify the town instead of polarizing it, to become a leader by the weight of his ideas. I urged him to create a platform made of projects and proposals, filled with practical nuts and bolts.

But I don’t see the substance in his rhetoric yet. I note from his Monday night comment in the public forum that he still believes the city has a bias against business. Where’s the showing of this? He should prove this allegation, or else be branded as carrying a bias of pre-judgment himself. It’s a serious allegation against the City, and it carries consequences. Do you as newspaper really believe this to be true? If so show it – that’s my challenge to you, and I will be happy to engage you in this discussion.

As for your conduct, you as a newspaper cannot put forward Chris Damon’s credential of serving on the board of the Historic Architectural Review Commission (HARC) without also in all conscience explaining that he actively lobbied to reduce and reshape the membership of that commission to create a contrived bias, towards business and against preservation. Not that the end view politically is necessarily a bad one, but using HARC of all bodies as a scapegoat – rather than coming out in political daylight and lobbying for broad change on stated principles – was an act of small-mindedness, and it fueled polarization. As a newspaper, you consciously glossed over this unforgettable piece of recent controversy. But now that we stand in a time of political daylight, perhaps this issue can come alive again?

It’s true that Chris Damon thinks out of the box, and plenty of people on their couches can do that kind of thinking, but this is vastly different from being able to execute, and turn ideas into reality. If you as a newspaper are enamored of his abilities to walk outside of the box, will you or he show some of these ideas? Again no showing is made, and I challenge you or him to demonstrate this thinking in concrete project proposals.

This election for Council member should hinge on the ability to execute, not the ability to envision. Visionaries can come before the Council, which I have found welcomes well prepared, new proposals of potential gain for the City. But on that Council should sit people who demonstrate expertise with the nuts and bolts. Everybody has great ideas, but only a very few will ever be made to work.

I look forward with much eagerness to the maturing of Chris Damon, in his long political career in Georgetown. In three years he may get my vote, if he attends to the details, and speaks to me in concrete, material terms. But today he’s unproven, and he campaigns on vague generalizations and philosophy – even the much acclaimed visions are missing. So where’s the reliability? In all responsibility to our own dependents, how can we take this to the bank? The Council, and our City in its current act of perfect balance, do not need an injection of philosophy, but an injection of material, practical, down to earth consensus-building. And proof of claims, including from your newspaper.
[860 words]

The editorial in the Sun (52 words for Oliver, 348 for Damon)

Logically one might make the same argument [in favor of retaining someone who has served well already] about the District 7 Georgetown City Council race featuring Chris Damon, 40, who is challenging the three-year incumbent Dr. Ben Oliver, 68, a retired Southwestern University administrator who before that was president of Hiram College in northeast Ohio. Dr. Oliver has been a solid, thoughtful member of a council faced with unprecedented opportunities and challenges relating to growth. He has earned out respect. And yet we are torn.

His opponent, Mr. Damon, offers something in short supply on the Georgetown City Council – a fresh and intelligent take on what it’s like today to start and run successfully a small, family-owned business in Georgetown, what sort of environment contributes to small-business climate that can attract young and ambitious, educated and enterprising people. Perhaps a good many, like the Damons, from Southwestern University.

Mr. Damon graduated from Southwestern University with a political science degree. Fifteen years ago he and his wife, Judith Manriquez, decided to return to Georgetown to start a new business and raise their family. From scratch, Mr. Damon (with the help of his wife, who is his business partner) has built a substantial marketing firm, GX Creative Communications, which earned the Chamber’s Small Business of the Year award in 2001; purchased and renovated the Masonic Lodge Building on the Courthouse Square; and has been an active player in several local volunteer groups, including Georgetown’s Historic Architectural Review Commission and the Palace Theatre. In short, Mr. Damon is an old-fashioned bootstrap entrepreneur, and a successful one.

What we like most about Mr. Damon (we have worked closely with him on a couple of civic projects) is his passion and commitment to recruiting and retaining small-businesses to Georgetown. Without the kind of businesses that regularly draw people downtown, he reasons, Georgetown’s gorgeously restored historic Square could become a stale museum piece rather than a place of kinetic energy and the town’s central gathering place for the community. We also like his ideas. It has become commonplace to urge thinking “outside the box.” Mr. Damon actually does it. His nimble mind tends to trace out unusual paths to prosperity, leadership, and identity – useful indeed to a city in need of reestablishing and reinforcing its central identity as it competes with other growing Sunbelt cities for new corporations, small business, and wonderful residents of all ages and abilities.

We believe the Council could use an injection of fresh ideas on the needs of young families and of small business in Georgetown. Chris Damon fits that bill well.

Well if you’ve read this far, you certainly deserve your own opinion, and we trust you have one by now. Let us know what you think, in the Comments section right below.

 

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