Forty years ago, Ed and I became good friends. I was serving an inner-city parish in a changing neighborhood and Ed was a Redemptorist priest serving the same community. Along with the Lutherans, Ed and I developed an ecumenical outreach ministry for neighborhood children and youth. This ministry became a beacon of hope. We both understood that appearances as well as actual actions can make all the difference in terms of effectiveness. That's when Ed found himself in a dilemma.
Along with Ed, two other clerics served his parish. Each of them needed a vehicle. They devised an inclusive vehicular program. They leased one Ford, one Chevrolet, one Plymouth. All three were stripped down models. No wheel covers, just dinky hubcaps like cop cars. No radio, no air conditioning, cheap vinyl upholstering. Basic transportation. The cars got them where they needed to go and demonstrated the appropriate humility expected of clergy who, along with the vows of celibacy and obedience, promised to live in poverty.
One day Ed told me their whole car thing was falling apart. The auto dealers from whom they leased these plain Jane models informed them they couldn't afford to lease those cheap cars to them anymore. Here was the problem: At the end of the lease period it was impossible to sell these cars. Their car-buying customers wanted better-equipped models. The dealers said, "Here's what we will do. We will lease you a fully equipped model for less money than you are now paying for these cheap things."
Now Ed and his fellow clerics found themselves on the spot. I just love this. They decided to spend more money to continue leasing the ugly, stripped-down models. Mind you, humility doesn't come cheap. They decided that appearances mattered more than the substance. They feared that if the poor they served saw them driving a fancy car, it would create an impression that they were living high on the hog. There would be no second chance to make a first impression. The had to spend a lot of money to look cheap.
So now the state airplane fleet has been grounded. The reason the fleet exists is because it is a proven time and money saver for the state. Florida is huge and Tallahassee is inconveniently located in terms of population centers. When three or four state employees travel in one airplane the cost is less than for all to fly by commercial carriers. The efficient use of time and financial resources make owning the state air fleet a no-brainer.
Except for appearances.
So it looks like this is a clash between cash and flash. Florida will experience the kind of financial loss Alaska did when then-Gov. Palin put the state plane on e-Bay. It was eventually sold at a huge loss to the state; but, hey, what does fiscal prudence matter when you can maintain appearances?
Florida will ignore the cash and go for the flash. For mere appearance's sake, efficiency and effectiveness will be sacrificed. Travel-weary state workers will be compelled to spend useless hours motoring along mind-numbing Florida highways.
The whole purpose behind this scheme is to please the antigovernment, antitax mob by punishing public servants. And hang the expense.
C.D. Chamberlain lives in Spring Hill.