Taxpayers get ‘doggie bag’
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.