Stop Naming Public Assets After Living People

I’m writing about this now so that it won’t appear that I’m going after some beloved public figure getting richly-deserved public recognition for his or her tireless work on behalf of yada yada yada.

Don’t name a bridge after a living person. Don’t rename a street. Don’t attach a living person’s name to the next airport, or community center, or park.

Regardless of their merit or lack thereof as people, I don’t want to see a Kit Bond Bridge, a Mayor Funkhouser Community Center, or a James B. Nutter, Sr. Park. For that matter, I don’t particularly like driving on Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard, and I won’t refer to Longview Golf Course as the Fred Arbanas Golf Course.

It’s simply inappropriate.

The US Postal Service has a rule that it will not issue a postage stamp commemorating a person until he or she has been dead for at least 5 years
. It’s a good rule, saving us the embarrassment of honoring athletes who turn out to be creations of chemistry, and politicians who have accepted bribes.

It also prevents official endorsement and promotion of individuals. Why does our government maintain a highly-traveled road emblazoned with the name of one candidate for Congress, without doing the same for his opponent? Why should a person running for the County Legislature be disadvantaged by a parks department avidly promoting a lush golf course in the name of his opponent?

Naming rights have real monetary value. Why should our public entities give something of tremendous value to favored individuals? If we took Swope Memorial Golf Course and renamed it Cerner Golf Course, we would expect millions of dollars in payback from Cerner – why should it be any different for a living person? The naming rights for the Sprint Center cost $62.5 million – why did the County and City give away similar (though smaller) rights for free?

Personally, I think it’s an ethical lapse for any politician to accept such a valuable gift from a public entity. What would we be saying if, instead of naming a golf course after him, the County Legislature had simply decided to cut Fred Arbanas a check for a few million dollars, just because they think he’s a swell guy?

Finally, no human being is universally revered. If we renamed the ground around Liberty Memorial something like “Obama Plaza”, since he drew such a huge crowd to it during the election, those people who disagree with our President would be justifiably disgruntled. Our public squares ought to be dedicated to unifying principles, not divisive politics.

It’s time for local, state and federal governments to stop naming public assets after living people.

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