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Words of wisdom in budget warning

George Zoettlein has a lot of nerve.

The six-year Crystal River employee recently wrote a letter telling the City Council what he thought about the proposed budget for fiscal year 1996-97. He didn't even ask the council's permission before he offered his opinion.

For his bold move, Zoettlein was dressed down by some members of the council last week. Council members Ron Kitchen, Kitty Ebert and Daryl Oster let Zoettlein know that he should keep his opinions to himself. Kitchen, in particular, took exception to Zoettlein's unsolicited commentary.

In a nutshell, Zoettlein said he was concerned that the proposed bare-bones budget relied too heavily on reserve revenues. If an emergency comes along, like another flood or a protracted legal problem, the city might not have enough reserves to cover the expense.

So, considering the insolent nature of Zoettlein's comments, who can blame Kitchen and his council colleagues for being upset? Zoettlein is, after all, only the city finance director. Why should his opinion about the budget matter? Who does he think he is to question the wisdom of such masterful budget analysts as Kitchen, et al?

Enough sarcasm.

George Zoettlein knows more about the city budget than all the council members combined. He helped bring the city out of the financial red when he came here six years ago and, by all accounts, has done a superior job since.

The only recent criticisms of note are from the city's private auditors, who have repeatedly chided Zoettlein and the city for _ you guessed it _ failing to keep enough money in reserve.

So, it is not surprising that Zoettlein did was what any responsible, professional public servant should: warn the the council members that their budgetary path might be bumpy. He wasn't being a wise guy; he was being wise.

These council members need to remember that when voters granted them the power to make changes in the city, they were not given infallible judgment.

(An afterthought: If Zoettlein's letter had praised the actions of the council for discovering some sort budget panacea, would he still have been criticized for voicing his opinion?)

Letters policy during election time

Although many political candidates have been combing neighborhoods in the past couple of months to collect signatures and the dreaded signage already has begun to deface our roadways, the election season officially began at noon Friday. That was the final deadline for candidates to qualify for office. For those who opted to pay the qualifying fees instead of submitting voters' petitions, it was put-up-or-shut-up time.

Now, with the campaign season in full gear and the first primary just six weeks away, it may be useful to remind readers of the Times' long-standing policy regarding letters to the editor about the elections.

No letters will be published that clearly attack or endorse candidates. The Times encourages letters about issues, not individual candidates. Also, with rare exceptions, no letters from candidates will be printed.

The intent of this policy is not to quash debate or impede free speech. It is meant to protect the integrity of the opinion page as a reader's forum and to prevent it from being abused by candidates who might be tempted to shirk their responsibility to deliver their campaign message directly to voters.

In addition, letters that serve only to endorse a certain political party will be carefully scrutinized for relevance.

However, readers who wish to submit letters about candidates for informational purposes only are certainly welcome to do so.

The policy will be repeated on this page from time to time through the general election Nov. 5.