February 3, 2011 10:15:00 AM
Does anyone remember Operation Pretense? That was the name of big Mississippi FBI sting back in the 1980s, which ended with the convictions of 55 county supervisors on bribery and corruption charges.
The system of government that allowed this corruption to occur was the beat system, which many Mississippi counties have since moved away from. Under the beat system, county supervisors were each given an equal share of county road money to spend how he saw fit. This left each supervisor free reign in his own district, but also open to bribery, or worse, for road contracts and political favors.
After the sting, many Mississippi counties moved to the unit system, which centralizes road work.
Opportunities for illegal gain aside, the centralized system makes more sense. Road crews are no longer a political tool. The entire county benefits, as the roads with the most need get the first priority.
Unfortunately, we see the Columbus City Council sliding into an old, inefficient, outdated beat mentality. Tuesday, the council voted to split $2 million in bond money for road repair six ways -- $333,000 for each council member -- to use in his respective ward.
Sadder still is the city had already figured out the best way to spend the money -- money that''s hard to come by and should be wisely and deliberately spent. The city has already paid its engineer to make a list of the roads throughout the city in the most need of work. That list was thrown out the window on Tuesday. Now, city council members are redoing the engineer''s work themselves, finding $333,000 worth of roads to fix in their own wards.
Never mind that some wards have more needs than others. To the majority of the members on the council, it apparently isn''t fair to spend money how it''s most needed. Everyone should get an equal amount, whether they need it or not.
We''re not suggesting that anyone on the council is doing anything illegal. On the contrary, maybe this is democracy at its finest. Everyone gets an equal share, meaning no council member has more influence than the next person.
Or, maybe it''s simple power mongering.
Whatever it is, at the very least, the council is delaying much-needed road work, and ensuring that some roads in need of repair will be left out.
Council members are clearly focused on their own wards. But this Solomon-like solution of cutting the baby in equal portions to please all sides doesn''t seem wise, especially to those of us who care more about potholes than politics.
No matter -- the city seems to have an unlimited supply of that awful gray gravel it uses to patch holes with. We hope there''s enough to tide the city over until the next time we''re able to borrow $2 million.
We''re concerned with the road our council is headed down. It''s fraught with potholes -- many that won''t get fixed.