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Let them eat cake — I'm going to England

“Let them eat cake," goes the legendary saying, talking about folks who, forget cake, didn't even have bread. That sort of cluelessness proved fatal for French aristocrats. And it is still bad politics today.

We live daily with news of scary unemployment numbers and regular folk struggling to get by, though some in high places seem to wonder what the fuss is about. You would hope your public officials already knew.

Pinellas school superintendent Julie Janssen is headed to a conference at Oxford University in England next month, with taxpayers picking up the conference cost of $2,595 and Janssen paying the other expenses, including airfare. It's in part to learn about British schools and the challenges they face similar to our own. "I'm trying to lead a district in a brand new direction," Janssen says.

Looking at things like "the globalization of curriculum" sounds like a fine idea.

For less lean times.

Because right now, with pay freezes and job cuts, even symbolic sacrifice matters.

Smart politicians realize sharing the pain resonates with the people who are actually feeling it, in gestures like taking equal pay cuts even if, yes, it tends to sting less when you're making six figures.

Not spending tax dollars on what would be perceived by some as a perk even in the best of times also works.

A School Board member opined that if the controversial conference were in Des Moines, no one would give a hoot. Actually, these days, some of us care about even a couple of grand.

(And, by the way, were it in Des Moines, would anyone be champing at the bit to go? With all due respect to our fine vowel states, maybe not so much. Send us to Mickey's Orlando, to New York, to Vegas. England's not too shabby, either.)

On the less debatable end of the spectrum, how about this eyebrow raiser from the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, a nonprofit funded by you and me for the purposes of — get ready for a funny — helping folks find jobs?

As first reported by WFLA-Ch. 8, the agency reached new heights in tone-deafness. How high?

Let's see: Someone thought spending thousands on a comedian for the staff was a good idea. Someone thought thousands in extravagant chow — let them eat gourmet cupcakes! — was a good idea. Over on the Pasco-Hernando board, someone thought thousands for employee massages was a good idea. Someone thought …

Okay, someone didn't think.

We had raises for Hills­borough County Administrator Pat Bean and her top deputies even as other employees were looking at layoffs. And how can we forget Commissioner Kevin White passing the buck to taxpayers for his sexual discrimination mess?

All of which is enough to make a citizen cynical.

Think about the people currently pushing a referendum for light rail — not to mention much-needed bus and road improvements to be included in that additional penny sales tax. Efforts to get voters to pony up for progress will have to overcome the stigma of sorry spending stories.

Because it matters to us how officials act when the chips are down. And can the chips get much more down than this?

In some cases, maybe it will determine who eats cake — or crow — come the next election or appointment.

Let them eat cake — I'm going to England 02/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 8:17pm]
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