Fire the Contract.
At a public meeting, a Bradley County official once advised me that a person with my name had an outstanding warrant against him and asked if it should be investigated.
I have always addressed controversy head on and sometimes asking awkward questions gets people bent out of shape. In Cleveland, there is a history of brushing skeletons under the rug. The rich and famous are uncomfortable with people like me checking on their public activities. They are not above pressurizing whistle blowers, but squawk loudly if the opposite happens. So I believe our friendly official was making a subtle threat to keep me quiet. "You dig up our dirt, we will dig up yours", was the vailed implication.
Not the best approach when dealing with me.
The City of Cleveland is full of people trying to manipulate others to get what they want and, more often or not, the City Council conducts business in a like fashion. The council see it as imperative for a balanced city budget to negotiate a new fire protection contract with the county. Cleveland, a little city with a population of less than 40,000 is sinking under the weight of big city programs. City leaders know that growth brings opportunity for individuals to make lots of money but puts extra stress on social programs that are paid for by the taxpayer. The Cleveland good ol boys are smelling money from growth but the city is going broke trying to keep up, hence the need to boost revenue. Every little bit helps when the alternative is raising city property taxes to pay for rapid growth. Raising property taxes is a sensitive subject and will likely cause a change in the way growth is viewed by voters. Growth that bankrupts the city is not good growth, even if it makes a few insiders wealthy. The money has to come from somewhere, so manipulating a need for fire protection in the county helps avoid some unpleasant issues for the city.
The problem for Cleveland is that for years Bradley County residents have been asking their commissioner representatives to break from the city and invest the $1.8 million it pays for the contract in a more efficient county fire department. There is resentment to the idea of propping up the city's budget under the disguise of fringe area fire protection when the county has a dedicated fire department of its own. Last time, our county Mayor shocked commissioners by signing the contract without warning. City manipulation at its best, or worst, depending on what side of the fence you are on.
Like it or not, the fire contract is a conflict between Cleveland and Bradley County over money. It is not a misunderstanding over efficient fire protection.
Unfortunately, there is at least one rookie member of the Bradley County Commission that believes this conflict can be solved with statesmanship. He believes a mutually acceptable compromise can be reached by approaching the problem in a responsible manner. He is not the first to believe this but he may have achieved success if it was purely about fire protection. The conflict is about the county being manipulated in order to supplement the city budget. Old timers like Howard Thompson and Mel Griffith have seen the inequity of a lop-sided fire contract and are accustomed to the money grab, newer commissioners, in an effort at reason, jump in with what they think is a fresh approach to solve the problem. This plays directly into city hands by dividing commission sentiment and ultimately putting the county at a disadvantage.
The Bradley County Commission is primarily there to represent the county, its residents as a whole, and protect fiscal responsibility for the county budget. The Cleveland City Council is there to do the same for the city. Working together for the common good would be an advantage but there is no requirement for them to do so, especially if manipulation is being used to get the city out of a fix. County commissioners need to learn a lesson in bone-headedness from the city council. The past has shown that the city council care only what the county can do for them and it is overdue that county commissioners toughen up and respond to this reality.
City budget problems are for the city to solve with fiscal responsibility. It helps neither Bradley residents in the city or county for Cleveland to prop up its budget by manipulating county funds. In the long term it doesn't make the city stronger but will make the county weaker. It is not hurting Cleveland by requiring them to take responsibility for budget shortcomings, it is encouraging them to make permanent adjustments for the betterment of city residents.
For those who are interested in what was said to the official mentioned at the beginning of this editorial. He was advised to investigate all he wanted while I reserved the right to investigate him all I wanted. He never mentioned the subject again.
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