Thought-provoking council meetings

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 29, 2003

There is a large group sitting up on and behind the dais during the formal procedure of a meeting of council members and they can be rather intimidating to lone figures who must approach the lectern, face the body of officials and within three minutes state their case. First comes name and address, I assume so they can be checked for ringers, and then the request, complaint, suggestion, or sound advice on how officials should be doing what they do.

Leroy Schmidt, a regular visitor, proponent of lower taxes, and more efficient management, states his case unequivocally. Reading from copious notes he fearlessly attacks what he considers an error of council judgment, or gross miscalculation of city officers.

He is expert at creating an aura of suspicion, something being hidden from public view. And he takes the city head-on when he declares there are 205 cell-phones scattered among city employees, yet he can get no information from anyone regarding cost and who uses them. He, and others, feel this should be public information.

Email newsletter signup

In another appearance, Mr. Schmidt insisted that council cut nobody’s taxes, those that live on the water should pay for the privilege with much higher taxes, criticized the city for what he considered outlandish travel expenses, unnecessary raises for city employees, and suggested that money be used instead to raise salaries of police and fire personnel. He covers a lot of bases in three minutes and you may agree or disagree. He is tough.

I had to agree with William Howard who took on the city’s $200,000 budget for travel and training. He assumes people hired by the city are already qualified to do what they do. He did an even better job of questioning the city budget for memberships and dues. That item was $125,905. So when a city officer or employee joins any club, any organization, the city picks up the tab. The Tourist Bureau has $6,000 budgeted for that alone. William Howard pays his own dues and membership fees and meals. His message is quite clear. If the average taxpayer pays property taxes of $1,259, it would take 10 taxpayers to foot just that budget item. Even more perceptive on his part was spotting the budget for TGIF, $20,000, when there hasn’t been a TGIF in years.

Two who braved the lectern and timer suggested the city not be in the marina or golf course business and that the $616,000 allotted for the golf course be given to the schools. And they wondered why there was $97,000 budgeted for &uot;fees&uot; when every fee charged by the city for anything went up. A gentleman named Roger Leonard insisted he would spend a lot more of his money to improve the airport and bring more business to the city, if the city would get off its duff and provide the necessary permits and guidance. We need to know more about this and, hopefully, by doubling the public relations personnel, we will. Another gentleman insisted our property taxes are much too low and, it seemed to be a complaint about our schools, only 10 of 500 employees hired by the Department of Defense in Suffolk, come from Suffolk.

I enjoyed the tapes of the council meeting, and learned much. What sticks in my mind more than anything is the fact that the council members never directly answer or

challenge anything addressed to them. Some of the public utterances were pretty darn potent, admonishing, to the point, and deserved some sort of reply. It’s as though the words sailed over council heads and landed somewhere behind them in a large wastebasket. I wondered if any council members would dig around in that basket after the meeting and consider if any answers or rebuttals might be helpful to the public. Mark Twain said, &uot;I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.&uot;

Did you know that the Suffolk School Administration sent the entire School Board and the superintendent to the National School Board Association Conference in San Francisco at a cost of $2,250 each for a total cost of $18,000? Somehow this escaped all local newspapers. Superintendent Liverman asked, &uot;How could we afford not to go?&uot; I’ll leave it to you to supply an answer.

Robert Pocklington is a resident and regular columnist of the News-Herald.