Saturday Column: Politicians could learn lesson from city manager

Both Kansas and the United States are facing severe fiscal constraints — uncontrolled spending on the part of Uncle Sam and a combination of questionable tax policies and a soft economy placing Kansas in a tight budget situation.

In both cases those in charge of the budgets, President Barack Obama and members of Congress as well as Gov. Sam Brownback and state legislators have been derelict in not practicing and demanding sound fiscal policies.

Fortunately, Lawrence’s new city manager, Tom Markus, is calling attention to a shaky fiscal situation and making a strong case that it is important to reduce expenses before the city and its residents discover the city is in a serious debt situation.

Far better to be on top of a dangerous matter than to try to dig yourself out of a deep, dangerous and debilitating hole.

Markus has suggested the elimination of some positions on the city payroll and cutting back on several costly city-funded projects.

The response was immediate: Markus, some claimed, did not appreciate or understand that Lawrence is different from most cities and that is what makes it a special community.

It’s the same old refrain some like to say: “It’s nice to live in Lawrence so you can tell your friends you do not live in Kansas.”

Yes, Lawrence is a special place, a great city in which to live, play and work, and we may want to have a few extras other cities lack or do not want or appreciate.

Chances are Markus would like to have some of the “unconventionals,” but not if these extras are going to place the city in a debt position. Do residents want higher taxes to enjoy the “nontraditional” personnel and programs?

Markus is calling for fiscal sanity. He isn’t against the various projects and office positions if the city can afford these extras or unusual positions. His job is to assess the fiscal condition of the city, make his thoughts and concerns known to city commissioners and to the public and leave it to the commissioners to make the call.

It’s up to the commissioners to decide what they think is essential, what the city can afford and what is in the best interests of the citizens.

Markus is a highly regarded, experienced professional, and he is working with a relatively inexperienced City Commission. He is offering his best advice as to what he thinks is best for the city.

It would have been good for the country and Kansas if our leaders had been honest with the public about expenditures, revenues and what was essential and nontraditional. Unfortunately, they called for actions and policies designed to win votes rather than for fiscal responsibility. Look where we are today.

Markus is suggesting, calling for and/or warning the city to not fall into a serious debt situation. He is sure to have stepped on some toes, but better to do this than to be afraid to speak up and alert commissioners and the public to the dangers of overspending and placing the city in a debt situation.