For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
– Proverb dating to at least the 13th century
For some unknown reason, the concept of maintenance is not a sexy subject in the human mind. Often my mind turns to the fact that I never give preventative maintenance enough attention, particularly when a crisis sets in from a rusted-out pipe exploding and spraying the utility closet at 3 a.m. After the dust has settled from the crisis, I will mutter the above proverb and wonder when I will learn that in this civilized world I inhabit, it is often the smallest details that can derail an entire daily routine; or worse, lose the kingdom.
While it is clear that the individual struggles with basic maintenance, what about the community or the county? How much of what keeps our community going is ignored because it lacks the flash and pizazz of progress?
The answer is depressing: the foundations of community infrastructure are ignored the most in the modern age. To be fair to those community leaders currently in office, the job of preventative maintenance and saving for future replacement has never been an easy one. Large savings accounts tend to get voters upset if taxes are not lowered when the bank account looks big. However, only looking at the cash in the account is not enough in a modern complex economy. The roads need replacing in 15 years, the sidewalks in 30, and the pipes in 50. Plus, there is the ever-concerning problem of inflation, eating away at the cash meant to replace those costly infrastructure projects in the future.
If we are being honest, no government body has been able to run on an accrual-based accounting system versus a cash-basis system. Not at the federal level, where I have no hope of ever seeing Social Security providing for myself in retirement. Nor at the local level, where the county cannot figure out how to replace the roof on the search and rescue building it owns, or Round Mountain replacing its wastewater treatment plant. The mix of elected office, inflation, and the lack of understanding of how important basic maintenance is in the modern world has resulted in a system where we cannot even get the basics correct as a community anymore.
This is not to say there is no hope. Organizations have popped up across the world that are pushing hard to learn from the lessons of the past 80 years. Strong Towns is a non-profit organization spreading the message of how-to for communities to build sustainably profitable towns in the face of unpayable future liabilities. The Tribune is a proud member of this organization.
There is also the wonderful book The Innovation Delusion: How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most. The authors make a huge effort to bring attention to the maintainers of society and show the value that they provide, even though as a society we tend to shun and even ridicule those that make modern living possible.
And of course, there is the monumental tome If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, where Jeremy Gage shows how it is that when push comes to shove Mayors and small governments, get the job done of getting the trash taken out and the sewer working.
While I am not impressed with our elected officials at the county, city, and special district level on a regular basis; I am constantly happily surprised by the innovative solutions, can-do attitude, and general savviness of those that actually keep the county running. Round Mountain may have a solution thanks to former citizens and a dedicated staff. While Silver Cliff does not have a business district, I am impressed with the constant maintenance of Roger Camper and the admin work of Ilene Squire that have produced grants to upkeep buildings. While Westcliffe leaders waffle on every decision during meetings, I am impressed how much of the streets get plowed, and lines repainted every spring. And I will never cease to be amazed by the fact that the hundreds of miles of county roads somehow get plowed and graded despite a lack of priority in BOCC meetings. These are just brief examples, as there are so many other cleaners, janitors, plumbers, roofers, handymen, and so many more that I cannot list here that make life possible in Westcliffe.
So, I am going to lift my glass as I finish writing this to The Maintainers, may we all find a way to recognize you as the true leaders and foundation of this community.
– Jordan Hedberg