Slimantics: Local elected officials avail themselves of travel opportunities ... and taxpayers pick up the tab

September 19, 2013 10:11:32 AM

Slim Smith - ssmith@cdispatch.com

 

Early this year, when the qualifying period began for the mayor and council races began, I found it odd that more people didn't choose to run. As you will recall, two council positions were uncontested and only one council race had as many as three candidates. In the mayor's race, two challengers faced incumbent Robert Smith. 

 

Given the general downward trajectory of the city, you might have thought more people would be inspired to jump into the fray. Hardly. 

 

Marty Turner turned out to be the only new face on the council and Smith easily retained his throne. 

 

Now that the elections are a few months in our rear-view mirror and we've had the opportunity to see the marginally-new city government in action, I believe the lack of candidates can be attributed to poor marketing. 

 

I am convinced that some would-be candidates might have been prompted to seek office if only they have been made aware of some of the benefits they may have failed to notice. 

 

"Join the Council. See the World!" would have been an excellent marketing slogan, I think. 

 

It's been a busy summer for the council and city officials, what with all that packing and unpacking and getting on planes, etc. 

 

This month, councilmen Kabir Karriem, Joseph Mickens and Turner will head to Washington, D.C. for a Congressional Black Caucus legislative conference. Last month, the same three councilmen, along with Gene Taylor and Charlie Box and six other city officials spent three days of intense, exhaustive study of ways to develop the Tenn-Tom Waterway in the grim confines of the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa, located on the spartan beaches of Point Clear, Ala. 

 

Since their return, it's all they seem to want to talk about -- ways to develop the Tenn-Tom. Day and night, it's "we can do this on the Tenn-Tom" and "according to the extensive notes I took at the conference, we should do this." Such is their zeal, that citizens are often compelled to cross the street when they see a city official approaching for fear that they will be button-holed for a long soliloquy about plans for the Tenn-Tom Waterway. 

 

Now, it appears Taylor is headed for Seattle for a National League of Cities conference.  

 

I would not be at all surprised if Taylor doesn't come back with plans to build a Space Needle right here in Columbus, probably as part of that Tenn-Tom Waterway development. 

 

Then Taylor, Smith and Mickens are off to Tunica, which is rumored to have a casino and nice restaurants, for a Municipal League Conference. I see a floating casino in our future, don't you? 

 

All of this traveling comes at a time when the city is already more than $5,600 over budget for administrative travel.  

 

It also comes shortly after the city put the finishing touches on its budget for next year. The council cut funding for most departments, although it did somehow manage a healthy increase for administration, because, you know, all that travelin' ain't cheap. 

 

Of all the departments, the city's fire department took the biggest hit, losing about $580,000. On the bright side, there's a pretty good chance the mayor and councilmen will be safely out of town in the event of a fire. 

 

Travel is also very much on the minds of the folks who run Lowndes County. And by "folks who run Lowndes County," I mean, of course, board of supervisors president Harry Sanders and supervisor Leroy Brooks. 

 

This week, Sanders got a ruling from the state attorney general's office over a controversy that began when Brooks turned in his expenses for a trip to Biloxi for a June conference. Brooks arrived at the conference a day early, but turned in that day's expenses for reimbursement and was paid for it. Later, Sanders insisted that Brooks repay that portion, which amounted to $199. Brooks refused. In fact, he said he would rather duke it out in court than cough up the two Benjamin. 

 

So that was the end of it, right? 

 

Are you nuts? It would be easier to convince a wolf to let go of a pork chop that it would be for Sanders to let go of this. 

 

So off to the AG's office Sanders went, returning with a ruling that says the county can withhold Brooks' pay check until he coughs up that $199. 

 

After initially saying he would get his own AG opinion, Brooks finally relented and paid the $199 this morning, which is really a shame, in one sense. 

 

I don't know how they handle pay-day for supervisors. Here, I walk around the office every other Friday and hand checks to my employees. 

 

If that's the way they do it with the supervisors, I would have paid good money to watch Sanders dole out the checks as Brooks held firm in his refusal to pay up: "Here's your check, John. Here ya go, Jeff,. Here's your check Bill....No soup for you, Leroy!" 

 

Public service can be a thankless job, I realize.  

 

But nobody said it isn't wildly entertaining.

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.