If you’ve had only a casual interest in local government over the years but care deeply about the future of Frankfort and Franklin County, this would be a good time to get more engaged.

To say that the community is at a crossroads is an overused metaphor, but it’s safe to say that decisions by city and county leaders in the months ahead will be consequential long beyond their time in office. Officeholders come and go, but citizens remain to enjoy the successes or cope with the errors of elected leadership.

A couple of readers took me to task for writing in this space a couple of weeks ago that the fate of a proposed solar farm to fuel the energy needs of city and county government buildings and schools would be decided by politics. “Saving the planet shouldn’t be political,” one told me.

Environmentalists, of whom I count many as close friends, are often too idealistic for their own good. The fact is that the solar farm championed by Andy McDonald and Walt Baldwin is dead in the water unless those who support it exert enough political influence on elected members of the Frankfort City Commission, Franklin County Fiscal Court and the two public school boards to revive it. Period.

Politics is a dirty word, sometimes deservedly, in this country, but it’s the fuel that sustains a democratic republic. Candidates convince voters to put them in office, then make policy based largely on the preferences of the citizens who elected them. For all of its messiness, it beats autocratic alternatives. God bless the Founding Fathers who designed it.

The current debate over the proposed solar farm is a microcosm of a much more important discussion and process that will unfold over the next year — the first significant update of the Frankfort-Franklin County Comprehensive Plan in nearly a quarter-century. It will be tedious, sometimes boring and seemingly bureaucratic work, but the final product adopted by city and county leaders will shape the community’s economy, social fabric and citizens’ quality of life for a long time to come.

The updated comprehensive plan will determine which of two competing visions for the community prevails, or at least has the upper hand.

On the one hand, many are concerned about economic stagnation, struggling middle- and low-income families who disproportionately rent rather than own their homes, an anti-business mentality and a general lack of economic prosperity, or even security, for those who aren’t government workers or pensioners. By any economic measure, Frankfort and Franklin County are lagging neighboring communities.

Others love the community for its current size and social fabric and worry about the detrimental effects of residential and commercial growth on the environment and quality of life. Besides, too many existing buildings are empty to justify constructing new ones.

I talk regularly to people in both camps and believe them to be sincere and well-intentioned, even as they think ill of the “other side.”

Regardless of where you fall, you’d be wise to take a seat at the table, listen, learn and tell your elected representatives what you think. That’s politics, and there's nothing dirty about it.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The State Journal. His email address is steve.stewart@state-journal.com.

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