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Lathrop City Council earns Nero Award

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POSTED December 29, 2009 3:35 a.m.

It looks like a Christmas card but it is symbolic of all that is wrong with government in California.

Last week hundreds of cards were sent from Lathrop City Hall with a color photo of the five-member council and the text, “Season’s greetings from the Lathrop City Council.”

This, of course, cost money and staff time. There’s the card itself, the envelope, the postage, and the time it took to stuff the envelopes and mail them.

Forget the fact Lathrop is bleeding red ink all over the place, may face a reduction in police manpower plus other municipal workers, and its civic leaders are seriously pondering a sales tax for fire protection due to financial woes that are threatening the fire district’s ability to protect property and lives. There’s always money to stroke the collective ego of politicians.

One has to wonder if any of the 10 Lathrop municipal employees already who have lost their jobs – and those who will get pink slips in 2010 – got a holiday greetings card.

It sends a message that would have made Nero proud. Why curtail spending of scarce dollars wherever you can to save jobs and services if it means your leaders can’t have such niceties as shrimp served in celebration after council meetings? It’s tough, after all, to spend taxpayers’ dollars on an empty stomach.

Why send a card at all? The answer is obvious. It is an empty gesture at best since it certainly isn’t enriching the lives of Lathrop residents knowing that their elected leaders want to wish them a season’s greetings. That is why it is all about creating a community image for the council.

It would be interesting to know what the California Taxpayers Association and the Fair Political Practices Commission would think about the card mailed at taxpayers’ expense. It is so blatant that it defies justification.

Not that it would be better in terms of scarce tax dollars being squandered, but why wasn’t there just a simple photo of Lathrop City Hall or – heaven forbid – a group shot of the remaining Lathrop municipal employees? Of course, if you did that you wouldn’t be re-enforcing the message that the five men and women are the city and not those who work day in and day out with a lot more job responsibilities and less help as everyone tries to get through these trying times.

Lathrop families – especially those laid off by the city – that are struggling who still have to pay taxes should ask themselves if they would have used their dwindling revenue to send out holiday cards en masse? Their answer would be different than the City Council because the money they are spending is not bottomless. There is a consequence to every expenditure you make when you have to worry about basics.

Obviously Lathrop’s leaders aren’t to that point yet or else they have no concept of money whether it is due to the fact it isn’t coming out of their own pocket or they can’t wrap their heads around what is happening throughout California.

With all due respect for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and et al, the card conveys no official Lathrop business.

And even if Lathrop’s elected leaders can justify it on some level, they certainly can’t justify it by saying “gee, it isn’t that much money so why make a fuss about it?”

Every little bit of savings can make a difference. Hundreds of dollars turn into thousands. Thousands turn into ten thousands. Pretty soon you’re talking a municipal job. And it just isn’t a job you’re saving. You’re saving municipal services.

In the overall scheme of things, no city has business wasting tax dollars on such a frivolous thing even in good times. Doing it now, though either says you’re not worried about finances or that you simply have contempt for the little people that are also known as taxpayers.

The Lathrop City Council definitely has earned the Nero Award for California Cities.

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