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  • Last modified 112 days ago (July 25, 2019)

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Contracting a disease of indifference

Marion’s city hall appears to have much in common with KU’s football stadium. A main concern of people who work in either place appears to be how much they can get from their employer once they’re fired.

For KU football coaches, it’s understandable. The team’s 0-0 record so far this season is its best winning percentage in a decade. But chants of “We’re undefeated!” most assuredly won’t be echoing around the Campanile for very long after the season actually begins.

What’s not so certain is why city workers here seem to think of themselves as Marion’s equivalents of Mark Mangino, Turner Gill, Charlie Weis, and David Beaty, all of whom were paid (or sought pay) for not coaching the Jayhawks.

Multiyear contracts with golden parachutes are as common in college football as illicit steroid use. In city government, they’re as rare as peace and tranquility were when Mary Olson was mayor and David Mayfield and Doug Kjellin were city administrator.

In fact, long-term contracts with bonuses upon departure are illegal under city rules, which makes it even less understandable why a city attorney, just benefiting from a 25% raise, would draft such provisions in proposed contracts for key city bureaucrats.

If you’re a KU football coach, your worst nightmares probably begin with a new chancellor or athletic director being hired and starting to sharpen his or her ax. For city bureaucrats, the prospect of a new mayor and new council members appears equally frightening.

Rather than do what most of us would — do our jobs so well we become indispensable — bureaucrats seem headed for a bunker of legal protection.

At least one of the stealthily proposed city contracts last week would forbid elected officials to fire an appointed official for several months after taking office.

It’s just the latest way in which bureaucracy tries to overwhelm democracy and take the power of government away from the governed.

That’s not to say all bureaucracy is bad and all democracy is good. Just visit a county commission meeting to see democracy run wild without the counterweight of an administrator.

Still, we’re rapidly approaching the point at which elected officials don’t really matter anymore. Bureaucrats seem to control them as tightly as school principals keep student councils in check.

Much as we’d like to blame the bureaucrats for all of this, we can’t. The fault, dear voters, is not in our administrators. It’s in ourselves.

Time was, school boards, city councils, and county commissions, not to mention certain white-colored homes on Pennsylvania Ave., were filled with the best and brightest their constituencies had to offer — leaders, often visionaries, who were the smartest and most involved people in the community.

Some elected officials still are, but as more and more citizens become less and less willing to serve a civic duty, bureaucrats begin their takeover, eliminating actual debate and leadership and leaving us with elected bodies that merely rubber-stamp whatever is put before them.

Remember the days when school board members actually went out and recruited teachers? Or when city commissioners actually were responsible for specific city departments? It wasn’t that long ago that the city offices consisted of just a clerk and a part-time helper. Now we have more people working in just the parks and recreation department than we did in all of city hall, and our parks and recreation haven’t become noticeably better.

Yes, red tape has become one of the biggest products in our bureaucratic economy. But part of that is our fault, too. When the first words out of our mouths are, “They ought to do something about…,” it’s no surprise when bureaucrats we want to do stuff for us start doing stuff to us, as well.

If we act like cattle, we end up being treated like cattle. Welcome to the feed lot.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 25, 2019

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