How to stop the ‘food fight’

Published 10:08 pm Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Yearly, the citizens of Suffolk have generously allowed some of their tax money to be given to local causes that purport to serve us all, but the effort has been a political hot-potato since day one.

There seems to be an emerging consensus that something is wrong with how we are “doling out the dollars” to non-government groups. In an attempt to circumvent logic by fiat, our chief executive (the city manager) has, in fact, only worn thin her ability to lead when and where it counts. As usual, the issue is about our money and who gets it — or not.

There is little doubt that many people and groups are struggling to make ends meet in this economy. They are, in fact, feeling left out of the local funding processes altogether under this year’s “new rules.” There has always been the scramble for funds to be doled out from the city budget (and the attached claim, by some on council, to the political juice for such).


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Some are even claiming that there is a conflict of interest in the city manager’s process as she has stated it. The real problem is that our city manager has created a political problem that never was her providence to begin with.

To resolve this sticky issue, I would propose a unique solution for funding of all non-governmental entities with local funds.

First: Require all requests for local funds to be tendered no later than early January for consideration in the coming fiscal year. Second: Establish the budget director as the point of contact for such requests and create a line-item amount within the budget, pre-approved by council for the same by December. And last: Establish a funding committee comprising four members chosen from our local faith-based groups, four members chosen by the local service organizations who received funds the pervious year and four members chosen by the four members of council who where elected in the most recent local general election for council.

These 12 people would decide by a super-majority (at least nine votes) to approve the funding of or not for the requests received, within the budgeted amount.

This creates a “competitive compromise” balanced within the defined limits of the budget. This process also would facilitate reasoned compromise; defining whom to fund and for how much, rather than allowing someone to arbitrarily “cherry-pick.”

It would make it hard for anyone to command the process, due to the make-up of the committee. It also would spread responsibility for the decision and insure that many must agree and compromise, due to the “super-majority” requirement. But most important, it would remove our professional city manager from a thorny political issue that really does cause hard feelings, thereby minimizing the politics of this yearly food-fight.