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Editor's Note: Depleting the civic bank account
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I WANTED to discuss something a bit more theoretical this week, but something also very relevant to all kinds of recent events locally.

There is such a thing as goodwill.

Not the capital-g Goodwill where you take your unwanted items for resale, but the idea of goodwill as a particular type of credibility and positive feeling that is only built up over a long time.

This kind of goodwill is hopefully something you can manage and maintain both to your benefit and also the benefit of your community.

There is personal goodwill, a thing formed by being a considerate and empathetic person to those around you regardless of what that person can do for you. This is the most basic and important type of goodwill, often called The Golden Rule.

There is corporate goodwill — actions taken by companies to forge bonds with customers or potential customers. If those actions cause hurt, corporate goodwill also includes efforts to take ownership and redress those grievances.

There is also such a thing as political goodwill.

If elected or appointed leaders have built up a reservoir of goodwill based on previous sound decisions, subsequent decisions will be given the benefit of the doubt.

If they haven’t, then the same actions might be seen in the worst possible light.

Same decision, different potential reactions. That is the power of goodwill to either help or hurt you.


In all its forms, goodwill functions similar to a bank account. You can make withdrawals as well as deposits.

The more deposits you make, the healthier your balance of goodwill.

The more withdrawals you make, the lower your balance of goodwill.

If the balance drops below zero for too long, the loss of goodwill can be fatal to a company or government.

It dawned on me that there’s a common thread to local news lately, from the Fire Fee to preservation to parking to policing and many other issues in between:

Local government has burned through much of its goodwill with the public, and doesn’t seem to have much left.

This crisis of confidence could eventually call into question everything it touches. Left unmanaged, it can become a downward spiral.

If you’re generally seen to have been a proper steward of historic preservation, for example, the public might come to your defense if you’re faced with a new outside study showing that historic preservation is being threatened in Savannah.

If you’re already seen as steadily favoring anti-preservation interests, however, such a study would just serve to reinforce growing negative feelings about your performance.

Same study, different reactions.


Another example: If you’ve done a great job in being frugal with City finances, the public might be forgiving if you come back to the well for a bit more revenue in order to fund more services.

But if you’re seen as profligate or capricious in your previous spending habits, any more requests for money will be met with a mounting sense of disbelief and outrage.

One recent headline is about the City of Savannah’s estimated $10 million surplus in 2017 revenue.

Ordinarily, that announcement might be a great headline for a City leader to see in the morning over coffee. “Surplus” is almost always a way better word than “deficit.”

But in Savannah, that news went over like a lead balloon. In the current political climate the surplus was seen by most people, fairly or unfairly, as further proof of the City’s financial mismanagement.

Same surplus, different reactions.


There was a similar reaction to the City’s just-announced lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

What was touted as a move to restore public health was taken by many citizens as just another money grab.

Same lawsuit, different reactions.

In a vacuum, many things our City and County government do make perfect sense. There are many very well-educated and very well-meaning people involved with local government, most of whom are able to clearly explain why they want to do the things they want to do.

Some of these government employees are true unsung heroes, and deserve much more positive attention than they usually receive, whether from citizens or from us in the media, who of course tend to always look for the most critical angles.

But unfortunately none of these things happens in a vacuum. There’s always a context.

Simply put, what our leaders need to do right now is make more deposits into the civic account.

They don’t have to be big things. They can be a lot of small things, like the new painted bike lanes on Lincoln Street.

If you’re going to put money from the surplus into the Cultural Arts Center — already seen by many in the public as a boondoggle — make sure it goes to upgrade the Center rather than just cover a cost overrun.

The previous administration of Mayor Edna Jackson fell apart after a crisis of confidence over the issue of crime. Their goodwill on the subject had mostly evaporated, and the voters rendered judgment.

If you look at the local crime stats now, they are generally improved across the board. The administration of Mayor Eddie DeLoach seems to have built up positive goodwill on this particular subject, and credit should be given where it’s due.

But speaking of golden rules, one of the golden rules of politics is: Don’t rest on your laurels from the last election.

The next City election in 2019 isn’t likely to be about crime, but probably about issues of financial management — the deeply unpopular Fire Fee likely chief among them.

There is a little over a year left to make some timely deposits into the civic account, and hold off on making withdrawals awhile. The time to start is now.