Boy, did we elect a bunch of self-centered, small-bore, perk-hungry pretenders to the St. Petersburg City Council last March. I know, the Times editorial board recommended them. And enough of you agreed with our recommendations to put them in office. In some cases, the alternatives may have been worse, but some of our picks have turned out to be more than disappointing. In fact, they are an embarrassment to the council and the city. The council's decisionmaking, which so far has been generally responsible, is not the issue. The problem is the exaggerated sense of entitlement some council members have brought to their jobs.
A surprising number of our new council members, after only three months in office, feel they are underpaid and underappreciated. They want higher salaries, a pension and a huge increase in their expense accounts. Apparently they have forgotten that serving on the council is a part-time job _ and for a good reason. Unlike Kathleen Ford, the controversial former council member who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor, these new council members seem more interested in perks than power (there's more than one way to abuse the office).
Council member John Bryan is among those who want a bigger budget for snacks and beverages at the city's luxury box at Tropicana Field. The Trop box is available for council members to use for official entertainment, but Bryan, whose oinks are the loudest around the public trough, recently used the box to entertain his campaign contributors and workers. It must have been terribly embarrassing for Bryan not to be able to offer a full menu and an open bar to the people who worked to put him in office. No wonder Bryan, a former developer and one of the wealthiest council members, is leading the charge for a bigger entertainment budget. Two other council members, Richard Kriseman and James Bennett, have mixed a few of their campaign supporters with other guests at the Trop box, but Byran packed it for what looks to me like a belated victory party.
And then there's Virginia Littrell, who for three years in a row was delinquent in paying her city property taxes. She explained that it was all part of her investment strategy. Instead of paying her taxes on time, Littrell invested the money and made enough in profits to pay her taxes with the accrued interest penalty and still come out ahead. Anti-tax Republicans should make her their poster girl.
Obviously, the Times editorial board failed to do its homework last March. We won't make that mistake again. We already are revising our candidate questionnaire for the next city election. Next time around, we will add questions we should have asked in the last city election:
Should council members pay their property taxes on time, or should they follow the Littrell rule and sock their money into investments? If the latter, would they advise all taxpayers to follow their example and put their personal investments ahead of paying their taxes on time?
Do they understand that serving on the council is a part-time, term-limited job that pays about $25,000 a year, offers no pension and has a modest expense account? Or do they believe the job should be full time, and if so, do they think that council members should be allowed to determine their salaries, perks and benefits according to their personal sense of entitlement? (Taxpayers could never afford to pay John Bryan and James Bennett what they think they are worth.)
Should council members, after serving one four-year term, be entitled to free city services, including water and garbage pickup, for their lifetime?
Should taxpayers pick up the tab for council members to entertain their campaign workers and contributors at Tropicana Field?
Should council members be provided with cars and drivers and a police escort to whisk them to and from official functions and meetings?
Should only imported bottle water, say, San Pellegrino, be served at council meetings?
Should hot face towels be available at 20-minute intervals when the council is in session?
Should they be entitled to taxpayer-financed vacations abroad each year that could be written off as tourism promotion?
Should they be given one hour of air time each week on the city's cable television station _ and the service of a makeup professional _ to talk about the personal sacrifices they are making to serve their city?
I know some of you want to whack these council members on the snout. But I say nothing is too good for them. So let taxpayers cough up whatever it takes to show our appreciation. Maybe it's time for a Council Appreciation Day. I say let's uncork the champagne, break out the Waterford and recognize these public servants for what they really are.