Tax­pay­ers get ‘dog­gie bag’

The Progress-Index - - OPINION -

The city tax­pay­ers spent a lot of money to show Hopewell vol­un­teers how much they are ap­pre­ci­ated with a swanky din­ner at a lo­cal restau­rant. Who knew tax­pay­ers were so gen­er­ous? Cer­tainly not them.

Vol­un­teers def­i­nitely de­serve the ap­pre­ci­a­tion and Hopewell should show it. But to the tune of $10,000 for one night of din­ner and gifts? Our city has a fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity to its cit­i­zens and there were other more fis­cally ap­pro­pri­ate op­tions. Sev­eral busi­nesses could have catered the event and there are nu­mer­ous lo­ca­tions to pur­chase very thought­ful gifts lo­cally. .

We are not ques­tion­ing the value of any­thing pur­chased that night, but we do ques­tion the bud­get, or in this case, lack of one, con­sid­er­ing a lofty $7,000 tar­get ap­peared to be more of a sug­ges­tion as the fi­nal num­ber topped $10,000. The last time such an ap­pre­ci­a­tion din­ner oc­curred was 2013 be­tween $3,000 to $5,000.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ap­pre­ci­a­tion din­ner has been tainted, with $10,000 used for it from “left­over” City Clerk funds. Is that the new city ad­min­is­tra­tions/ coun­cilors fis­cal pol­icy? Do left­over bud­get funds now be­come a sort of slush fund to be used at the whim or whimsy of who­ever can spend it?

Don’t look at the clerk or any depart­ment head. Look at the city ad­min­is­tra­tion and coun­cilors. They put the money in the bud­gets and they are re­spon­si­ble for the main­te­nance and man­age­ment of such funds.

This type of poorly man­aged free-spend­ing leads us to ques­tion how many other city depart­ment bud­gets are clear­ing out left­over funds. Un­used bud­geted monies should re­vert back to the Gen­eral Fund where the en­tire coun­cil can pub­licly de­ter­mine proper re­al­lo­ca­tion or sur­plus sav­ings to safe­guard against fu­ture tax­a­tion.

The to­tal bill came in at $10,473.66 by Plan­ning Com­mit­tee mem­bers con­sist­ing of City Man­ager March Alt­man, As­sis­tant City Man­ager Charles Dane, Coun­cilor Jan­ice Den­ton, Vice Mayor Jas­mine Gore, Deputy Clerk Frazelle Hamp­ton and City Clerk Ron­ni­eye Ar­ring­ton.

So what did our elected of­fi­cials say about this?

Coun­cilor Tony Zev­go­lis claimed that he had no in­volve­ment in the din­ner prepa­ra­tion. Mayor Jackie Shor­nak said that she had no knowl­edge of the de­tails of the din­ner and had ex­pected the com­mit­tee to be more frugal.

Ms. Den­ton, a plan­ning com­mit­tee mem­ber, said they never sat down and had a meet­ing to make de­ci­sions and ex­pected that the com­mit­tee would go back to coun­cil and make a fi­nal pro­posal. Ms. Gore, also a com­mit­tee mem­ber, said the com­mit­tee had an in­ter­nal place­holder of $7,000.

Coun­cilor Christina Lu­man-Bai­ley could not re­call pre­vi­ous din­ner bud­gets but made no state­ment to this years cost. Coun­cilor Brenda Pel­ham said that re­cent dis­ap­proval from res­i­dents had not changed her mind that the com­mit­tee did an awe­some job. Coun­cilor Arlene Hol­loway had no com­ment on the event.

Mr. Dane said that it could have been done for less, and Ms. Ar­ring­ton said that any coun­cilor at any time could have re­quested or post­poned spend­ing.

We as­sume if it was their per­sonal check­book, ev­ery sin­gle coun­cilor would have known ex­actly how much was spent and been quite frugal about it.

But it wasn’t their check­books; it was the tax­payer’s check­book. And that ap­par­ently was a blank check.

But this is ex­actly what we have come to ex­pect from the cur­rent coun­cil

- a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, a lack of be­ing in the know, a lack of judg­ment in spend­ing de­ci­sions and a dis­tinctly pro­found abil­ity to point the fin­ger of blame in any di­rec­tion but their own.

It’s too late to ar­gue af­ter it’s done. It’s clear that the city right­fully ap­pre­ci­ated their vol­un­teers but showed lit­tle re­spect or ap­pre­ci­a­tion to its tax­pay­ers or fel­low lo­cal busi­nesses as a whole. And per­haps that’s part of the rea­son vot­ers cleared out the chal­lenged in­cum­bents.

We hope the new coun­cil about to be seated will fo­cus on the cit­i­zens and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Of course, we also hope the cur­rent lame-duck coun­cil doesn’t bury the city at the bot­tom of the James be­fore Jan­uary.

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