Friday, December 01, 2006

Money and Public Service...

We have not even had the chance to try out the new Congress or State Legislature out for a spin and we are already talking about next year's municipal election. Now, I admit, this is a consequence of having our elections the year after either a Gubernatorial or Presidential election. In all fairness, there really was not that much suspense around here this election. We knew Patrick would take Springfield, and by Election Day, Healey's campaign was of little consequence anywhere in WMass or anywhere. We knew Kennedy, Neal, and Olver would get reelected so our role in taking back Congress was again minimal.

Therefore we are pressed to the Municipal Elections. Obviously, the top slot is the most important and assuming at least one member of the City Council steps down, as has been habit in recent years we will likely see something of a race for at least one, probably two slots, as Jimmy Ferrera, destined to replace State Representative-elect Puppolo, fights for a full two year term. It is too early now, to know or even tell who may retire and whether Charles Ryan will run again. Ryan decision to run or not has implications as to who will be in the field. The Republican, on 11/19 detailed possible contenders including several sitting councilors, who have expressed interest, and not just talked about expressing interest.

However, today at issue is not who will be mayor and our city council, but rather what they are paid. This is a touchy subject. We always bemoan pay increases for oficials in Washington and Boston, though in their defense, and I rarely come to it, the state Constitution determines their a point. Obviously they must be paid something. Freshman Bruce Stebbins, who proposed the pay reduction for the City Council, did a brave thing by throwing it out there. While some more senior members compained about the cost of parking, others came to a symbolic, but nonetheless meaningful consensus for a reduction, however small.

However, with the financial situation going from critical to serious condition, pending the trash fee resolution, some feel it is okay to talk about raising the pay for our elected officials. Now, for me, whenever the Control Board packs up, the city council reduction should be lifted, but not before. Remember, these are not the councilor's primary sources of income and should continue that symbolic sharing in the city's financial situation. And honestly, is not having that extra $1450 really breaking anybody? No. I don't know the financial situation of the nine councilors, but I'm sorry if they have lots of debt or something, that isn't my problem any more than my debts are theirs. However, I do admit, restoring their reduction is not nearly as asinine as the Boston City Council's 16.6%
pay raise to the Mid 80 G's.

Then there is the mayor. Some have argued that we need to raise the pay of the mayor to levels that outflank even Worcester a city larger than Springfield. I admit, that maybe paying the mayor under $100,000 is maybe not enough. However, a token increase is all that is necessary to $105-110,000 at most. These same people, some of whom, I admire, state a steeper, almost 50% increase is needed to attract someone with an executive background, able to manage the city.

Excuse me, but what? Isn't this why they call it public service? Are you telling me that Ted Kennedy goes to Washington to collect the annual $150,000? No. He doesn't need the money anymore than he needs the tax cuts for rich people Republicans have been shoving down our throats for 6 years. Rather, he does it for the honor to serve the people of this commonwealth. Pardon me, while I wax idealistic and populism, but the reward is not in the money and it certainly does not ensure the quality of service. In addition, what executives are we trying to draw? The leaders of the areas largest companies don't live in the city and have expressed no interest in being mayor. Would we rather a carpetbagger from outside the city who knows nothing about Springfield just like those complaints we have all made (justifiably) about the Control Board?

Now is not the time to pass judgement on Charles Ryan and I am not doing so; however the quality of our leadership has deteriorated over time and it is not due to what we pay the our elected officials. Rather it is a general apathy that has grown, if not fostered among the city's people. The pitifully low voter turnout shows us that, especially amongst groups that have been reaching for power grabs in recent years. Only when everybody, not just people who claim or try to represent segments of the city, starts to pay attention and encourage good candidates will we be able to escape the quality-leadership vacuum for the long term.

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