August 7, 2014 10:53:57 AM
The legend is told that in 1789, when informed that her French subjects had no bread, Marie-Antoinette (bride of France's King Louis XVI) supposedly sniffed, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"--"Let them eat cake."
In the subsequent centuries that callous remark has been considered the standard by which all examples of a tone-deaf leader is measured.
The trouble is, historians doubt the French queen actually said anything to that effect.
Unfortunately, we have a more recent and indisputable example right here in Columbus.
During Wednesday's special council meeting, mere seconds after a prolonged discussion of grim financial realities that will negatively impact every citizen of Columbus, mayor Robert Smith broke a 3-3 tie to give himself a $10,000 raise.
"This is crazy!" a visibly shaken councilman Charlie Box said during the discussion that followed the motion by Gene Taylor, which was quickly seconded by Marty Turner.
Surprising? Sadly it is not.
The pay raise was bad, but the timing even worse because it came immediately after an unscripted, candid discussion of the city's disturbing financial picture.
After realizing the city will have to dip into its reserve funds to pay for a 3-percent, across-the-board raise for city employees (in some cases, the raises will be more than that), Box posed this question: "Are we headed for deficit spending?"
That question prompted a half-hour discussion. Bill Gavin and Box argued the city must work hard to reduce expenses to meet its budget. Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong said a tax increase is inevitable.
Property values in the city continue to fall, Armstrong said, which affects the city's millage value.
"Our mil has lost $12,000 in value since 2009," Armstrong said. "We don't have a spending problem; we have a revenue problem."
Box and Gavin seemed to understand, but both argued that to keep faith with the people, the council must explore every conceivable means of cutting expenses before considering a tax increase.
There was some discussion of privatizing the city's public works department, something a previous council had considered years ago, according to Armstrong. That move could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Taylor, who seems to care more about the 67 people in the public works department than the roughly 24,000 other residents of the city who might benefit from the move, said he would never entertain the idea, something the parks department did years ago.
The proposal to investigate that possibility ended again with the mayor breaking a tie and voting against the idea.
The mayor's unapologetic decision to vote himself a $10,000 raise is beyond embarrassing.
Earlier in the budget discussions, it was revealed that the city will eliminate seven police officer and three firefighter positions.
It truly was a "let them eat cake" moment city residents should not soon forget.
You will remember that Marie Antoinette paid the ultimate price for her indifference to the people. Will the mayor come to regret his conduct?
Maybe we will find out at the city's next regular council meeting at Aug. 19.
BYOC (Bring Your Own Cake).