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Super Rita to the Rescue?

03.24.10 02:49 PM – Andy McDonald
It’s always interesting to see what will get the attention of the Richmond City Commission, and Tuesday provided some interesting insights into their real priorities.

Robert Blythe took exception to a headline that appeared in the Richmond Register, which stated, “Most Commissioners Skip Finance Meeting.” He was quite agitated.

The headline was untrue, contended Blythe, who noted that commissioners are scheduled to attend Finance Committee meetings on a rotating basis, and sometimes, those designated to attend miss their rotation. Blythe also took great care to point out that commissioners are supplied with daily information that may have been covered in the meeting. So even if they really aren’t physically at the meeting, they are there in spirit.

Later on, Mike Brewer complained about the widespread perception that the city commission doesn’t care or is not doing enough about the city’s operating deficit.

The city is cutting costs, but a lot of that is due to the diligence of the city’s department heads. Part of the perception of non-action or indifference may be due to the fact that most of the suggestions put forward by interim city manager Jimmy Howard seem to be ignored. It's as if the commission doesn’t want to risk making anyone mad until after the election.

Whatever Blythe’s reasoning was, the fact is that the Register’s headline, whether certain commissioners were scheduled to attend or not, was absolutely on the mark. Here’s why:

The city manager/commission form of government is much like a corporation, in which case Jimmy Howard is the CEO and the Richmond city commissioners are the board of directors. The citizens of Richmond (the voters) are like the shareholders.

So if this corporation we call the city of Richmond was facing an operating deficit exceeding $1 million, and if the CEO was hosting a meeting about the company’s financial status, one would think the board of directors – all of them, whether they were scheduled to be there or not – would make it a point to attend that meeting. In the business world, those board members who didn’t attend in the midst of such a dire crisis would likely be dismissed.

Wait a minute; maybe I should state that more delicately: If you can’t be bothered to attend a meeting about your corporation’s massive operating deficit, a shortfall abided by your lax oversight, there’s no getting around it: In effect, you skipped the meeting. The shareholders would fire your sorry ass.

But there aren’t many folks who are willing to take personal responsibility for the crisis that has befallen the city. The common refrain from Brewer and Strong was, “Something has to be done. Something has to be done.”

Who, exactly, do they think is charged with the responsibility of doing this “something”? Batman? Jesus? Harvey, the six-foot rabbit? No, I think they are hoping to be saved by Super Rita. That’s right - Ms. Smart, whom commission members quietly resent because she had the audacity to make her concerns about the city’s finances public.

Now, because she is not up for election for the city commission, I suspect they want her to lead the charge for a tax hike. (That is, except for Connie Lawson, who’s hoping payroll taxes in April will help the city make up a lot of lost ground). After all, Smart, by their thinking, is destined for greener pastures of Frankfort. Couldn’t she take one last shot for the team? Right. I'll bet she laughs long and hard at the preposterous idea that she would take the bullets for this commission.

It’s ironic that Mike Brewer spoke of the city’s need to make a sacrifice – the only catch being that it’s the taxpayers of the city of Richmond who will be called upon to do the sacrificing by either paying a higher insurance premium tax or an increased payroll tax.

For the fact that they dragged their feet for three years on consolidated 911 dispatch, wasting well over a million dollars, they want taxpayers to sacrifice.

For the fact that they tried to approve a scheme to lease Camp Catalpa under the cover of night, then got the city embroiled in a massive lawsuit for going back on their deal, they want taxpayers to sacrifice.

For the fact that they gave a $300,000 no-bid contract to Bill Strong’s family during last year’s ice storm,then secured a loan for $600,000, they want taxpayers to sacrifice.

Most importantly, because they apparently can’t make the tough choices Jimmy Howard has recommended, and because their primary concern appears to be surviving another election, a few commissioners want taxpayers of the city of Richmond to sacrifice more of their paychecks during the most dismal economy in recent memory.

They don’t want to be accountable. They don’t want to have to pay for their mistakes. Instead, they are hoping to make you pay.


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