The Jackson Laboratory issue is generating dozens of letters to the editor and guest commentaries, hundreds of online comments and quite a few direct e-mails to the news room.
Excellent questions have been asked and answered. Well-reasoned opinions — pro and con — have been expressed. Astute observations have been made. Most of the public discourse has been heartening ... but not all.
For instance, despite four months of news coverage and public forums some members of the community still believe Jackson Lab plans to raise mice for research in Collier County, just like they do in Maine. Those people haven’t been paying attention.
Others who fall in the not-paying-attention category are the ones who fear county government involvement in the project will result in “another Stadium Naples.”
Newcomers to the area might not appreciate the Stadium Naples reference. It refers to a 1997 plan to build a unique golf course in North Naples that would have stadium seating around the finishing greens, making it an ideal venue for professional golf tournaments. The plan was billed as a way to boost tourism and the local economy in general.
It ended with the misuse of public money and indictments.
Readers who were here during the government corruption investigation 10 years ago know just how ludicrous the Jackson Lab/Stadium Naples comparison is.
For the newcomers, here’s what has to happen before you could use the two proposals in the same sentence.
First, Jackson Lab would have to change its status from a not-for-profit company to a private, for-profit company. Right after that, Jackson Lab would have to give one of the county commissioners a 12.5 percent stake in whatever is developed at the research park. That means the commissioner would get one-eighth of any profit the project would yield.
Second — in keeping with the Stadium Naples comparison — the commissioner would not have to invest any personal money. His 12.5 percent stake would be in exchange for his “marketing expertise.”
Next, an investigative reporter from the newspaper would have to discover that another commissioner had received a $200,000 loan from Jackson Lab to start his own business without putting up collateral nor agreeing to a repayment plan. (The reporter would also have to discover that three commissioners had been receiving free research mice from Jackson Lab for personal use on weekends. There would also have to be evidence that county staff has been getting complimentary shipments of live Maine lobsters from Jackson Lab folks up in Bar Harbor.)
The newspaper articles would have to prompt great public outcry, including a call for an audit of how taxpayer money was used by Jackson Lab.
The commission would have to vote not to perform the audit.
Then, the governor — alarmed by the public outcry — would have to appoint a special prosecutor who would be “amazed by the institutional corruption” he found. The prosecutor would then have to hand down indictments on three elected officials.
Any comparison between the corruption of a decade ago and what’s being proposed today is quite a stretch.
However, if you are looking for a Jackson Lab comparison, try using the 1997 opening of Florida Gulf Coast University.
It involved millions in public dollars, promises by government to build roads and infrastructure and concerns that the land owner donating the land would reap benefits. It also carried the potential to spur the economy and to forever change the region for the better. There also were risks and unknowns.
Phil Lewis is editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.