Asking questions is what makes democracy work
The weekend was something better suited for London, and Tuesday was as dreary as the year soon to depart. But the weather Christmas Day provided a perfect nostalgic environment — the glistening of new-fallen snow in just the right amount: not enough to make a snowman but also not enough to break out shovels.
It was an auspicious start to the end of a year that brought more attention than ever desired. If we as a community hope to find 2024 more to our liking, it would be wise for us to consider 2023’s lessons.
Politically, Marion’s city council needs to clear up huge amounts of ambiguity in its governing charter ordinances. The roles of mayor, council, and city administrator need to be clarified and adhered to.
Both citizens and officials, regardless of position, need to listen and to ask questions rather than defer to others out of fear of looking silly, being punished, or just having to do more work than minimally is needed.
A good indication of whether the new year will get off to a bright start may come tonight, at a rare Wednesday night city council meeting.
Almost nothing of consequence is on the agenda, but hidden away in the council packet are plenty of questions that someone — either on the council or in the audience — should be willing to ask.
The answers may not be scandalous. There may, in fact, be perfectly good reasons for the expenditures mentioned in the council packet. But on their face, they beg questions. And the notion of whether we have a functioning democracy depends on whether they are asked or whether weary citizens and council members merely accept things that seem questionable at first glance.
Warrants to be approved included a bill of more than $40 to a McPherson liquor store, charged to the city’s electric department along with a bill of about $100 to the same department from a McPherson restaurant. Both may be perfectly fine expenditures, but democracy demands that those in power and those subject to them make sure.
The electric department also bought gloves from, of all places, Casey’s General Store. There’s a bill of almost $300 for “street cop training.” Police also bought water from Walmart. An officer appeared to buy a new handgun. Police also ordered a costly bunch of uniform pants. The sewer department bought a more than $4,500 generator. There’s a $300 bill for removing and reinstalling a monument at the cemetery. A bill of nearly $7,500 for repairing an electric motor, and a nearly $1,100 bill for a park slide also are included.
The packet also indicates the city is keeping more than $2.5 million in a non-interest-bearing account each month. Hillsboro, on the other hand, invests its cash on hand. At current rates of return, investing just some of Marion’s balance might have eliminated the need for a tax increase this year.
We’re fairly sure city employees aren’t trying to play like Monday’s weather and snow anyone, but we’d really like to know for sure. Rather than regarding people who ask such questions as disruptive, we need to encourage and reward their patriotic diligence.
— ERIC MEYER
Last modified Dec. 27, 2023