Columns » Outsider



A few years ago, I was involved in a real-estate deal that didn't work out. To extricate ourselves from the mess, my partner and I each had to put up a thousand bucks or so. I've never forgotten Fred's reaction when I broke the bad news. He sat down, wrote a check, and, handing it to me with a slight smile, said, "Hell, John, sometimes you pay tuition, and you don't even know you're going to school!"

Maybe some of our peerless city leaders should follow Fred's example and take the opportunity to learn from the recent election. In an era when a Republican governor and a Republican president are cutting taxes, whatever led Mary Lou Makepeace and the Lords of the Universe to think that the single most Republican city in the country would vote to raise 'em?

Obviously, they thought that chanting that old Republican mantra -- "ommmm ... public safety ... ommmm ... police and fire ... ommmm ... infrastructure" -- would do the trick.

Unfortunately, it's hard to persuade the taxpayers that we're facing some kind of crisis in public safety when, by every statistical measure, crime has declined steeply in the last decade. Sure, our infrastructure may be collapsing, but, as far as the voters are concerned, the city still looks pretty good, particularly compared to our high-tax Midwestern and Eastern counterparts.

But it's always fun to see the grandiose fantasies of the ruling class destroyed by the recalcitrant voters. They've taken our pols out to the woodshed, and it's been interesting to see their reactions.

City Manager Jim Mullen resorted to the time-tested "Washington Monument" ploy, so named in honor of the Park Services chief who, when threatened with budget cuts, told Congress that he'd economize by closing the Washington Monument.

Lacking a Washington Monument, Mullen fingered the Pioneers Museum and the Symphony for threatened closure. Not that it much matters anymore what Mullen wants to do; color him gone.

The three newly elected council members are not fans of his, and at least two, possibly three incumbents are ready for him to leave. After all, someone has to take the fall for the SCIP debacle, and who better than one of its primary architects -- the autocratic, abrasive and highly paid city manager?

My money says to look for Council to install one of the old city hands in the position, with a two- or three-year contract. Several people come to mind: senior managers with no axes to grind and no agendas other than the good of the community.

Such a change would both reassure the community and comfort city workers. And by firing Mullen, Council would acknowledge the need to change city policies and make city government more responsive, less arrogant, less driven by the perceived policy priorities of a few dozen rich folks.

I spent part of Election Day Eve at a local hotel, where the Fearsome Four (Sallie Clark, Charles Wingate, Tim Pleasant and Margaret Radford) were hosting a party for friends, supporters and anyone else who cared to show up. By the end of the evening, giddy, exhausted, and hungry, a couple of our newly elected council members walked across the street to Denny's for a very late meal.

They blended right in with the late-night weekday crowd: rambunctious teens, exhausted shift workers, quiet loners. You have to wonder how many of our current incumbents would have chosen Denny's -- familiar, ordinary, working-class -- as the place to go for a victory dinner.

Meanwhile, let's hope that our policy-makers, at every level, will learn from the unfolding debacle of electric deregulation. Want to know why our electrical rates have skyrocketed in the last few months? Since electric utilities are no longer a nationwide regulated monopoly, producers are free to charge whatever the market will bear.

In an era of tight supplies, and a de facto supply cartel, prices have soared. Despite the fact that our municipal utility generates its own power, we rely upon the spot market for 10 or 12 percent of our needs. Since wholesale electrical prices are uncapped, we're screwed; when we pay our electric bills, a big hunk of change will flow to the generating cartel.

And who are they? Texas-based, Bush-contributing outfits like Dynegy. But don't feel too bad. This year, Californians, who paid $6 billion for electric power on the spot/wholesale market last year, will pay $70 billion in 2001 to those same happy Texans.

So next time you're in Denny's and you run into some of those newly elected populist conservatives, point out that if they want a modest tax hike, they'd better get electric rates down first. They're easy to spot, our council members; they're the ones in the back booth without the face piercings.


Add a comment

Clicky Quantcast