Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Budget-cutting the Hard Way

I wrote this column in October, 1981.  It's based on a story I read in my birth town newspaper.   I didn't save the original story, but I swear everything I've reported here is true:

I read in the paper that the city manager of a certain 1,000-resident Upper Peninsula village came up with an amazingly clever idea for saving roughly ten-percent of the village's $300,000 annual budget.

He recommended that council eliminate the city manager's position.

So this particular council, with visions of percentages dancing around in their wee little heads, voted unanimously in favor of the proposal.  After the final vote, the now ex-city manager, apparently dazzled by his own audacity, could be hear muttering, "It wasn't an easy decision.  I don't enjoy getting rid of myself."

I shouldn't wonder.  It's never easy getting rid of one's self.  It's especially difficult to get rid of one's self and still be around to say, "I don't enjoy getting rid of myself."  One usually doesn't have that option.

Personally, I think that particular council acted a little hastily.  Maybe they should reconsider and give that poor man a second chance.  I can't help but wonder if, in the act of doing his duty, in the heat of the budget-cutting moment, he simply forgot who the city manager was.

On the other hand, it could be he was grandstanding.  Maybe he was saying, in effect, "See, I'm taking my budget-cutting responsibilities so seriously, I've even willing to let you consider doing away with--heh, heh--my job.  Of course, I don't expect you to really--heh, heh--do it; it's just my little way of expressing my willingness to explore all options.  Heh, heh."

But maybe council had other things on their minds at the time and didn't get the "heh, heh".

Another possibility is that he really had been thinking of getting rid of himself.  It can happen.  I've done it myself from time to time.  Luckily, since there was no urgency attached to my decision, I have been saved up to now by my penchant for procrastination.  Then, too, there wasn't $30,000 at stake.  Nor did I have to worry about an over-zealous city council being ready to pounce on my ponderings at any given moment, then rushing to make them a reality before I could even say, "Kidding!"

Whatever the reasons, what's done is done, and the end of this strange-but-true story is sad, if predictable.  Since that unfortunate turn of events, the now ex-city manager hasn't had one single job offer.  In all honesty, could he have expected anything else?  I mean, as much as I would love to go on sympathizing, it seems to me he could have at least worded his announcement a little differently.  There aren't many employers--especially in this day and age--who would be willing to go out on a limb and hire a man who had just recently gotten rid of himself.

It stands to reason that any potential employer /interviewer would have no choice but to scribble across the now ex-city manager's application, "The applicant lacked substance. . ."


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