Thursday, August 25, 2011

Time to End Metro Council Sludge Funds

The Metro Council members' "discretionary funds" are once again being used to promote incumbents -- with our tax dollars. These discretionary funds ($75,000 per member) need to go.  Republicans are criticizing the latest misuse when they should be making a motion to abolish the funds altogether.

The C-J reports that Mayor Greg Fischer promised to advertise the names of any Metro Council members who donated part of their discretionary fund to pay for the WorldFest.  A city worker from the office that organizes WorldFest asked Councilman David Tandy to solicit $1,000 from his fellow council members.

Here's the quid pro quo:  those council members who ponied up donations from their discretionary funds would be named on banners, in print and radio advertising regarding WorldFest.  In other words, taxpayers would pay to promote the name ID and reelection chances of these members.

Vice Chair of the Republican Caucus Keven Kramer called the practice "incredibly distasteful."  That's an understatement but at least he spoke up.  As did Councilman Kelly Downard, who said council members were being asked to buy advertising rather than support a worthy project.  (Not only that, you're being asked to buy advertising with other people's money:  the taxpayers.)  Jerry Miller did not contribute from his discretionary funds, according to the C-J, because the promise of advertising made him uncomfortable.

We learned last year that some members of Metro Council were using their discretionary funds to give gift cards to citizens for putting up Christmas lights.  Seriously. And then there was Judy Green, who gave discretionary funds to 100 Black Men and told the group to steer it to others.

In short, the discretionary funds have been abused too often for too long.  It 's time to end this form of budgeting altogether.  The response, no doubt, will be that this is decentralized government; the members from each district know best what needs are in that district, and should have a fund to respond to those needs. Take pot holes and minor road improvements, for example.  It's hard to see why such needs -- if they are legitimate -- cannot be addressed by the mayor. It's not like he lives in Washington, D.C.  In any event, the WorldFest event asked each member to pool their money; this was a not district-specific event, it was a city event.

 But assuming for sake of argument that we do need this level of decentralization, then let's replace the "discretionary funds" with a pothole fund.  And let's reduce the amount.

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