Gotta love the attention to detail at Walt Disney World; they try to keep you engaged even while you are waiting hours on end for a few moments of terror and delight. Kinda reminds me of a few of my prom nights.
Any who, while waiting to enter The Haunted Mansion, I noticed one of their appointed distractions, a tombstone proclaiming the final fate of “Fred,” and it reminded me of the enduring legacy of former Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell. Even though his professional demise via an anti-climactic firing by Augusta commissioners came two years ago, the stink of what he left behind remains, and the success he had in playing so many serious issues under the radar, set a standard that his replacement has apparently embraced with unbridled enthusiasm.
If Augusta commissioners have a problem with Mayor Hardie Davis spending money foolishly, and without discipline or reason, they should look in the magic mirror. The way they handled hiring Fred’s replacement and the quarter of a million dollars a year she spends annually on her “deputies” brilliantly illustrates both irony and hubris in one fell swoop.
That Janice Jackson brought in outsiders, actually replacing the competent and successful in-house interims that should have been promoted instead, is a move that is 100 percent on the heads of the commission. All the expenses associated with those hires is also on their plates.
So the commissioners can bitch and moan about the mayor’s lack of respect for his budget all they want; their foolish expenditures associated with bringing in Jackson and her minions, at salaries far greater than what was being paid to cover the same duties in 2013 and most of 2014, hangs around their necks like a stinking albatross. The fact that they are in charge of the magic tree that apparently grows all the money they foolishly spend (better known as “the taxpayers”), is immaterial.
So spare us the dramatic speeches and the rolling of 10sets of eyeballs when discussing the creative and cockeyed accounting practices of the elected mayor. He is merely copying what he sees his comrades-in-arms doing every day.
And don’t even get us started on the travel budgets.
The ghost of Fred is alive and well and haunts the attitude, and for that matter the aptitude, of the bunch currently in charge. They drove taxes and fees up, they increased the payroll significantly (per bureaucrat) and managed to do it all while convincing most Augusta voters to give them even more money to spend. Commissioners actually sold folks on the notion that if they didn’t vote to keep sales tax revenues coming in they were horrible people who deserved to live in squalor and pain for the next 10 years.
It worked. Whatever it takes, baby, whatever it takes.
Don’t get me wrong, local option sales tax programs are wonderful tools for urban centers like Augusta to use to maximize the contributions of non-residents. When a guy from Ohio buys 10K worth of trinkets at Augusta National during Masters Week, and spends 5K on a hotel room that would have cost him 500 bucks the week before, he isn’t here to see how well, or how poorly, his contributions to the public coffers are being spent months and years later. I get that. It is a thing of beauty.
My biggest regret is that we did not get to see exactly how much city officials depend on that money to cover what should be basic payroll expenses and infrastructure maintenance. The only way for that curtain to be drawn back completely is to cut off the money flow. We came very close to seeing that happen this year, but, alas, patriotism and civic duty were sold as going hand in hand with rubber-stamping the blank check known as “SPLOST.” (Or “SPLOSH,” as some are known to call it.)
The “late administrator” Fred Russell may only be a ghost in the halls of the Marble Palace these days, but he started a tradition of shell games and creative financing that lasted long after the smell of his cologne finally cleared the building.
Here’s to hoping 2016 brings that forensic audit to all city government operations that has long been debated/suggested. Maybe if the Attorney General’s office orders it (and pays for it), we will see exactly how and where money gets spent, but, more importantly, how much is coming in and where it specifically comes from.
One other hope for the New Year: A district by district breakdown of private property tax revenue (not business related), to show exactly who is paying for the costs of running this municipal government and footing the bill for our incredibly large school system. One interesting tidbit that goes with such information; the districts that generate the most revenue cost the government very little in services, while the districts that contribute the least are by far the most expensive to keep safe and clean.
Sadly, those districts that are not pulling their weight economically tend to be home to rather enthusiastic voters. Quite a dangerous combination.