Our view: Your tax dollars at play

September 5, 2013 10:58:10 AM



Don't look now, but it appears the city of Columbus expects to make its portion of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway thick with development. Although we've heard absolutely nothing of the city's grand plans so far, there is good reason to believe that developing the Waterway will be the city's most important priority. 


We arrive at this conclusion based on the fact that the city sent no fewer than 12 city officials to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Opportunities Conference held Aug. 27-30 in Point Clear, Ala. 


Most of their spouses tagged along, too, because an expense-paid trip that included three days at the luxurious Grand Hotel Marriott Resort Golf Club and Spa is a lot more fun than some conference held in a stuffy conference room at a hotel next to the Interstate. 


Mayor Robert Smith and five of the city's six councilmen attended the conference, along with Chief Operating Officer David Armstrong, HR Manager Pat Mitchell, Chief Financial Officer Milton Rawle, Police Chief Selvain McQueen, Fire Chief Ken Moore and George Irby, listed as federal programs assistant for the city. In fact, about the only city official who didn't make the trip was Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin. We assume he stayed behind because, well, somebody has to answer the phone at city hall. 


Based on the $139 room rate (taxes not included), the $350 conference fee, some meals not included in that fee and mileage, a conservative estimate of the cost of the trip to the taxpayers of Columbus comes to about $12,000.  


Lowndes County, in case you were wondering, sent two people, District 3 Supervisor John Holliman and Chancery Clerk Lisa Neese. Aberdeen and Amory sent two officials each. 


No city was as well represented at the conference as Columbus. We are bursting with pride over that, of course. 


We are also a little curious. 


Why, as the city continues to hack away at its department expenses to fashion a workable budget for FY 2014, would so many officials attend a conference on development opportunities for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, especially when not one of these officials have uttered a word, whispered a hope or thrown out an idea about plans to develop the waterway? Isn't it also curious that no representative of city project manager firm J5/Broaddus, the latest addition to the city's bloated bureaucracy, attended the conference? We have been told that J5/Broaddus will be in the thick of every project the city plans.  


So, let's dispense with the gibberish about all the wonderful sessions, workshops and networking possibilities that the Columbus Dozen availed themselves of during the three-day trip to the beach. 


This was a junket, pure and simple, and our city officials absolutely, positively love junkets. 


This is appears to be particularly true for the city council trio of Joseph Mickens, Marty Turner and Kabir Karriem, who later this month will be off to Washington, D.C., for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual legislative conference. 


Gavin, who seems to be the lone homebody in the whole stinkin' town, challenged Karriem on the need to attend the conference during Tuesday's city council meeting, estimating the cost at $6,000 for the three councilmen. 


Karriem was predictably offended that anyone would make such a challenge. His argument: The city has $27,000 set aside for such trips and it would be an awful shame not to spend every last cent of it. 


You have to love that sort of reasoning, huh? 


We are sure the city workers -- you know, the folks who don't get to go to beach conferences -- will be content to go another year without a pay raise. 


The bottom line: While we are not advocating that our city officials never attend an out-of-town conference, workshop or training opportunity, we do not believe it is offensive to suggest that city officials at least pretend to exercise some fiscal restraint. Here's a novel idea: Send one person to the conference and tell him to take really good notes. 


And if you want to go on vacation, don't ask the city to foot the bill. 


In the meantime, we'll be keeping an eye on all that development along the Tenn-Tom we expect to see any minute now.