Let’s have a conversation about Dayton’s future

Almost without exception over the years, the Dayton-Montgomery County community has had excellent public officials, dedicated to the public trust, fiscally sound and creative.

In Dayton, our dynamic new mayor has raised a level of excitement for the future, both with new initiatives and by encouraging existing trends in downtown housing, new restaurants and businesses. Countywide, our commissioners and other officials have made significant efforts to attract new jobs, industries, and to keep Montgomery County among the nation’s leaders in providing human services.

Thanks to that leadership, our community survived the recession far better than many urban centers. However, a nagging question remains — is the present a guarantee of future success? I submit the answer is no; so we as a community, for our sake and the sake of those who come after us, must have a full, thorough and far-reaching discussion on how this wonderful community can best position itself — economically, socially and governmentally — for the future.

While many might conclude there is no reason “to fix it, if it ain’t broke,” there are certain trends and metrics that raise a growing and justifiable concern that if we do not take control of our future, demographics and economics over which our elected leadership has no control will relegate us to second-class status.

Our community cannot responsibly continue to ignore the massive losses in our population and manufacturing base, with its attendant loss of business leadership. We cannot turn a blind eye to increasing poverty spreading like a cancer throughout the county and to the good things happening in our public schools being eclipsed by statewide “report cards” that relegate Dayton Public Schools to the bottom of the barrel, raising the specter that companies and industries are frightened away by the lack of an educated workforce.

We cannot continue to be indifferent to the reality that our job creation and retention record is poor, and that our previously vibrant local financial institutions have become branch offices of mega-institutions whose headquarters are located far away. Further, we cannot continue to ignore that, while individual jurisdictions might spend tax dollars efficiently, our community, as a whole, is seemingly rife with duplicative services.

Moreover, we can no longer ignore that per-capita income is dropping here and that our ability to work together, to improve our collective situation in a global economy, is less and less in our own hands. For example, the Dayton and Cincinnati metropolitan areas are growing together to such an extent that, before the end of this decade, we will be ranked as one statistical area. Can anyone doubt that, in the absence of a conversation about and a proactive plan for the future, Dayton will be anything more than a very junior partner in such a metropolitan area?

I take no position on which community governmental structure might be best for the future; this is a decision the entire community must make. I urge only that every citizen of Montgomery County consider that future and what we can do to best position ourselves, not only within our community, but within the region, the state and the nation in the years to come. Should we fail to have this conversation, we will have lost control of our economic, political and social destiny and future generations will justifiably blame us for whatever adverse consequences come to pass — consequences that we should have anticipated and charted our course to avoid or to overcome.

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Walter H. Rice is the senior judge for the U.S. District Court in Dayton.