I am too easily influenced by the emotions of those around me. I seem to feel the pain others experience on a gut or a spiritual level. I’m sure a lot of people do that, but sometimes I wish I could be more aloof to the feelings of those around me. I wish I could have more of a “not MY problem” mentality.
As much as I love my job, working for local government is challenging on even the best days. The general public doesn’t understand allocation of funds. They don’t understand that if we spend in one area (because grant funds were received) that those funds can’t be used to save jobs in another area that is undergoing budget restraints. It is often frustrating to be accused of wasting taxpayers money instead of being thanked for writing a compelling grant narrative that resulted in a grant award for our community. Stimulus money was being thrown around right and left. Shouldn’t we have tried to get as much of that as possible to flow into our community? Of course we should, but now that the projects are underway, the perception is that we’re wasting taxpayer dollars to fund them. What the public doesn’t understand is that those grant funds MUST be used in a certain way and for certain projects. It’s not a blank check. It’s not fun money. Grant funds were awarded for a specific projects.
The people in my department are some of the most conscientious, intelligent, talented, hard-working people I have ever known. A great team has been assembled. Years of planning, pushing, politics, and a tremendous amount of work are culminating into an economic building boom in our community right in the midst of a “mini-depression.” Our unemployment rates are among the lowest in the state. Our local businesses are seeing steady improvements in their sales. They are hiring additional staff.
You would think that our community would be proud, right? Wrong. While our local economy has been booming, our City budget has not kept up pace. City Council has refused to increase taxes even as expense are on the rise. During the first wave, all non-essential staff was let go. As positions became vacant due to retirement, they were not filled. The work was absorbed by others. That was last year.
This year, all non-union workers were told that there would be no pay increases until further notice, not even the increase we had been promised six months ago. We were also required to “donate” three days back to the budget. That meant we had to take three unpaid days of leave. That’s OK. I didn’t hear any complaints. We were all happy to still have jobs.
Still…City Council would not consider a modest increase in taxes. Still…costs continued to rise. Our elected officials were listening to their constituents. No more taxes!!! (Oh, and City services? Please continue those without interruption.) Everyone worked harder. I’m here. I can attest to the truth of that. We all worked harder, longer hours, with more responsibilities, and of course, the promise of no financial incentive as a reward for the increase in those duties and responsibilities.
It looked like it was working. “See? We didn’t raise taxes. We trimmed the fat. Those under-worked, over-paid city staffers are finally pulling their weight!” Still…City Council was advised that if there was not an increase in taxes, the budget would continue to be in the red. But why would City Council listen to the finance department staff? They listened to their constituents. “No more taxes!”
It’s that time of year again. Budget hearings have been going on this past month. There wasn’t much more “fat” to be trimmed from City staff. More cuts would be forthcoming, though. Should garbage service be privatized? Sure! What about EMT Service? HUH???? Well, wait a minute. We can’t cut firefighters’ jobs. They are heroes. Why not take the money from that economic development project? Well, you can’t. Those are grant funds. So what!
I have twice had to cross picket lines to get to my office. It has been hellish these past few weeks, and it all came to a head last night. The final vote on the privatization of EMT service was going before City Council. A dozen firefighters were potentially going to lose their jobs. Emotions were running high. Police protection was requested to bring a routine economic development matter to Council.
More picket lines. Red in the face yelling. Gavels pounding. TV cameras all around. Some of the nicest people I know being harassed, threatened, and criticized. None of it was said to me. I am hurting because I have watched human beings FORGET that they are dealing with other human beings. Who tells someone that they hope they have a heart attack as they leave the building? This was said to such a gentle, kind-hearted woman. She is overweight and terribly self-conscious. I hurt for how those words must have stung her. It was proclaimed that others would burn in hell or rot in hell. Take your pick.
Today an angst-filled group was once again hanging around in the lobby of City Hall. As I crossed the foyer, I smiled at the group of people standing there, and said “Good morning.” I received a scowl in return and heard colorful, muttered comments as I passed by. What did I do? I had nothing to do with this decision. I made no recommendations regarding this matter. They hate me anyway.
I felt the weight of their anger pressing down on me. At lunchtime, once again, I sought the peace of the river. I sat there in my car, my beloved old car. I sipped a Pepsi, and dipped my fries in ketchup. The world is a mean place. People are just mean. I wished for a place far away…a safe place.
When I got back to the office, I spoke to someone who was there last night. I said that I was sorry. I said, “My heart hurts to see such anger and meanness,” and I gave her a hug. As I walked back down to my office, I passed others in the hall. Everyone wore a haggard, haunted look on their faces. There is a black cloud hanging over City Hall today.