COMMENTARY -- Money is power, and piles of cash mean more power for government administrators with access to it. Time and time again, Columbia city manager Ray Beck and successor Bill Watkins have proven that they alone have access to vast financial resources squirreled away absent long-term, transparent public scrutiny.
A few years ago, Manager Beck revealed that he'd apparently siphoned away $25 million from incoming taxes and fees to pay for a new city hall that was supposed to improve efficiency and pay big taxpayer dividends. But rather than help the average employee or small business owner, those dividends have apparently gone to IBM and other local luminaries.
If Mr. Watkins instead modestly raised the average city worker's wage and modestly cut the average person's taxes, rates, and fees, what might be the impact in a local economy driven so much by consumer demand that local public agencies perenially squawk about declining sales taxes?
Putting money into and staying out of our wallets, purses, and pocketbooks would pay off quickly.
Instead, cash accumulates at City Hall, utility rates jump, and basic services get whacked. So fiscally fouled has the water become that even conservative Columbia commentator Fred Parry -- not known for taking city management to task -- implied that irresponsibility is ruling their day.
"In a perfect world, run by responsible stewards of public money, we would be asking the voters of Columbia to help city leaders rank spending priorities," Parry wrote in a recent magazine editorial.
But not in just three public hearings during the summer, starting before school starts. There's no time for city leaders to rank spending priorities. No time for unpaid Council members to truly deliberate. No time for a 636-page monster called the City of Columbia annual budget to get a fair going over by a public on vacation, starting school, or returning from break.
Try reading, analyzing, and understanding the City budget yourself
-- by Mike Martin, who served as chairman of the City of Columbia Finance Advisory Commission between 2002-05.