“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”
-- John Godfrey Saxe, 1869
That quote has never been more true than throughout the Macon-Bibb County budget debate, the first for this new consolidated government. Certainly sausage making in 1869 was a messy affair, as it is today. Now, though, it is mostly out of sight. Laws, however, particularly on the local level, are out in the open.
Constituencies of impacted areas come to the meetings loaded for bear. And that is as it should be. It’s a messy process, but the best kind of government operates in the open.
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A community’s priorities are expressed in the budget, that by law has to be balanced. Taxpayers have a right to make their voices heard, and their elected representatives have to listen and act. This is the basic stress test for all who serve in public office: Sometimes the right thing to do is the wrong thing to do if re-election is desired. It takes courage and commitment. Unfortunately, too many times our elected representatives get their priorities mixed up.
Will those same taxpayers remember what they requested the commissioners to do if the financial shape of the county declines? No, it’s hard to place blame on a group that has no name except “taxpayer” or “citizen” or “resident.” The blame will fall on Mayor Robert Reichert and the members of the Macon-Bibb County Commission. They will be the ones who will draw the public’s ire. And all those taxpayers and residents who failed to voice their opinions at the Macon-Bibb County Government Center during the budget debate will have their own discussions, many of which will be on these opinion pages and will end up in the public square during the next election cycle.
Though there is agreement for now (the final budget vote will occur on Monday), it’s not too late for another spicy ingredient to be tossed into the boudin casing.