COLUMBIA, 8/3/10 (Beat Byte) -- Wise words from Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid yesterday were like breaths of fresh air in the hot, humid haze.
Sounding less like himself -- Columbia's intellectual voice of reason -- and more like a fraidy-cat Wizard of Oz scarecrow, KFRU talk show host David Lile peppered McDavid (right) with worries about this week's National Bikers Roundup. Like a damsel in distress with hand on forehead, Lile repeatedly wondered how Columbia would "get through the week." Would all this caution, worry, and alarm prove to be nothing after all? Or....
You could almost see Mr. Lile (below) cringing.
But McDavid didn't take the bait, instead deflecting what has become overwrought media worry-warting. Warmly welcoming the expected 30,000 motorcycle enthusiasts -- about the size of MU's student population -- McDavid said he considered the group "our guests," and praised one of their major demographics: middle-age and older rally participants who can afford expensive motorcycles.
Moving onto city manager Bill Watkins' increasingly controversial budget proposal, which cuts funding from a fire station on Worley Street and boosts utility rates during the nation's worst recession in decades, McDavid said the smartest thing I've ever heard from a local public official.
Rather than simply returning money to their own coffers, "profitable" city activities like pay parking lots should contribute to fire, police, and other essential services that are part of the city's "General Fund," McDavid said.
Tactfully explaining his position, McDavid brought common-sense equity to a sneaky aspect of public budgeting: Money "designated" for one activity can't be used for anything else, even if the designated fund is overflowing with excess dollars.
Excess funds from City Hall's cash-generating downtown parking monopoly, for instance, can't be used to fund police or firefighters. Likewise, profits from MU's cash-generating athletic department can't be used to pay professors.
Or so they say, until a powerful-enough politician or public official says otherwise. Mr. Watkins and his predecessor, Ray Beck, frequently move money from one designated fund to another, a practice former City Councilman Karl Skala once quipped was like "digging up money buried around the back yard. Only they know where it's buried, and only they can say when it's okay to dig it up."
McDavid's implication was clear: Public agencies exist to serve the public, and shouldn't use artificial barriers to slash budgets, raise taxes, or put the hurt on citizens.