There are two ways for public officials to treat tax money.
One, like it is money that is earned.
Two, like it is money that is given.
Too few elected officials are in that first category. They treat the money their government agency has taken from taxpayers like it is earned capital. When you toil and sweat for money, it is more precious to you, and you simply don't squander it. Elected officials who keep in mind that people have worked hard for the money that they are entrusted to spend do it more wisely. They are true public servants who care about good government, fair play and their own reputations.
Others simply see a checkbook accessing money that somebody has given them and they have no compunction whatsoever about writing big checks when it strikes them. They are like high-rollers sitting at a gaming table playing with house money. There's no concern that someone worked to provide that revenue. It's simply a pot of gold they've managed to get their hands on that they can use to spend as they see fit. They have no problem with other people paying through the nose so that their pals, business associates and relatives can reap the benefits.
That mentality reared its ugly head again this week at -- you guessed it -- the Dougherty County School Board.
After the need of hiring bond counsel to handle an upcoming Sales Tax for Educational Progress bond was sprung on the full School Board at the last minute (it was penciled in on the Monday night agenda, which is hardly reassuring since we're talking about a $40 million bond), it was also recommended by finance committee members Chairman James Bush and board member Anita Williams-Brown that the board ignore the low bidder and pay an additional $19,500 to an Atlanta firm because (1) a Monroe High School graduate works for it and (2) Bush was "more comfortable" with that firm.
Milton "June Bug" Griffin joined Bush in that notion, as observers of the School Board no doubt expected him to. But even the most jaded of observers who have been exposed to the antics of this School Board over the past couple of years had to have been stunned by Griffin's pronouncement of how he arrived at his "decision."
Asked by Carol Tharin, the lone member of the board's finance committee who wanted to go with the low bidder, if having a former Albany student on counsel staff was worth spending nearly $20,000 in additional taxpayer money just to send business his way, Griffin said, "I will go with Albany people every time, even if the price is $30,000 higher."
Griffin doesn't care because it's not Griffin's money. It's someone else's money that Griffin sees himself free to spend as recklessly and thoughtlessly as he likes.
School personnel looking at furloughs this school year are no doubt happy to learn that Griffin isn't worried about overspending when he feels like it.
If there were some question raised as to whether the low bidder was qualified to do the job properly, that would be one thing. But there was no insinuation that one firm was any better than the other, only a knee-jerk decision to spend more than necessary made by elected officials who don't mind wasting other people's money. The Dougherty County taxpayers can only hope that Bush, Williams-Brown and Griffin don't learn that one of the other even higher bidders has, say, two former Monroe grads on staff. The price could double or even triple before it's all over with.
Fortunately, Bush lost control of the meeting and nothing was accomplished Monday night, a case in which doing nothing literally was the best option.
We can only hope that before the School Board takes up this issue again, the School Board members who do think things through will have had time to study it and push for a decision that's in the best interest of the school system and taxpayers.