Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Paper Tiger

“When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them want you think they want to hear.”

- Thomas Sowell

I spent about three hours last night meeting with a group of Emporia’s bravest, our firefighters. One our incumbent commissioners, Tom Myers, was also there. The discussion was wide ranging, moving from compensation to management philosophy to the future of Emporia. I came away with two very distinct impressions. First, our firefighters are honorable, decent, hard-working men and women. They are dedicated to serving this community. Second, this city has, like so many other things, neglected them. They haven’t had a merit increase in years and the across the board raises of less than two percent they’ve been getting don’t even keep pace with the rate of inflation or their increases in insurance premiums.

Yesterday I wrote that the city has delayed looking at merit increases for a long time. For the firefighters and other city employees it means hope deferred over and over and over again. The city’s approach to the problem has been, as commissioner Julie Johnson said a few weeks ago, “to buy time.” In addition, the firefighters’ requests for capital equipment have been deferred. They’ve submitted requests for equipment like “jaws of life,” a thermal imaging camera, and other essentials and have been turned down. The police department has similar requests and they’ve also been turned down.

In the course of our discussions, Commissioner Myers touted the $300,000 surplus the city had produced in its final presentation of the 2006 city budget versus actual. Good news, right? Well, like so many things going on at city hall, the good news turned out to be nothing more than a shadow surplus, built on deferred capital expenditures and long overdue merit increases. If the city is that flush, why won’t it fund the requests of city employees protecting us from fire, thieves, and assorted rogues? Why should those answering our 911 calls and manning the patrol cars and ambulances be forced to come to the city, with hats in hand, to beg for what they need? Why should servants, dedicated to public safety, be treated as pawns in zero sum financial game?

Well, the time for change has come! It’s time for a new generation of city commissioners. It’s time for merit pay to be the norm. It’s time for merit pay to be instituted now, not deferred so that city officials can buy time. It’s time to give our public servants the equipment they need to do their jobs.

Some present last night said they were reluctantly looking elsewhere for employment, that the $8.88 to $12.00 an hour wasn’t enough to support a family. The last thing we need is to lose the good, decent, honorable people. What I heard from them last night was a plea for a return to common sense in city government. I heard them say they wanted to continue serving, that they loved this city. The city of Emporia needs to do its utmost to make sure they continue serving in the thoroughly professional way many of them have for years.

There was a stray item that came up in the discussions that illustrates perfectly what’s happening here in the shadow of the Kansas Flint Hills. Commissioner Myers touted his having drafted the latest version of the city’s livability codes. I applaud him for that. But, without enforcement, the code is nothing more than a paper tiger. It’s legislation without teeth, much like the promises for fair, just pay and the tools for public servants to do their jobs are when request after request is either denied or deferred.

It’s time for the city of Emporia to belly up to the bar and it’s time for the city of Emporia to cease playing the tired old zero sum game. Room can be found to do what’s right without increasing taxes. In fact, the task is “job one.” It’s time to put some teeth into our municipal tiger and do what's right. I’m committed to that!
Tomorrow I'll be discussing management philosophy. I'm a firm proponent of servant leadership. My virtual campaign bus will be ready to roll by about 9:00 A.M. I'd be honored to have you on board.

1 comment:

Dr. Bill ;-) said...

It has been very interesting to have a Google Alert for Blogs on "Kansas Flint Hills!"
Yours came up today, from right here in Emporia!
We now have a 22 county Flint Hills Tourism Coalition – this is the new website:
Our web site is to promote the Kansas Flint Hills; and:
There will be a 22 page color photo spread in National Geographic's April Issue on the Kansas Flint Hills, as a distinctive landscape.

We are really looking forward to the increased interest following that event.

We would appreciate a link from your site, to ours, if you are willing to do so. THANKS!
Best wishes!

Bill ;-)