Friday, 11 February 2011 00:00
I ran into our freshly-minted Fire Commissioner Don O’Brien outside the post office and discovered just exactly what’s wrong with America. First I congratulated him, then I mentioned that one of the Republican Club members had brought up a “government waste” issue with him while he was on the campaign trail. Specifically it was about the fancy Chevy Suburbans that the board members drive, like the one my wife saw cruising through a red light, paid for by you the taxpayer. O’Brien had campaigned on the “fiscal responsibility” platform, which was warmly welcomed as Long Island fire districts are notorious money pits. In fact Newsday had a multi-part serial on it last year.
After claiming he didn’t know who I was talking about, O’Brien then asked me what made me an expert that I could question the use of the vehicle. I said that I’m a taxpayer and have the right to ask. He replied, “I don’t have to go through this,” I suppose, referring to that whole pesky accountability thing.
Anyway, about the Suburban. Most voters, Democrat and Republican alike, would have a total cow if, say, the school board members started driving expensive vehicles paid for by education dollars. The fire/water commissioners do not fight fires and are not required to have any firefighting expertise. If there were a four-alarm fire, the fire chief wouldn’t say, “We need help—get that 67-year-old trustee here, STAT!” And no crowds would cheer as he rolled up in the taxpayer-funded bouncing pimpmobile (hydraulic lift kit sold separately).
One might think I’m engaging in poetic license here, but it really is a sweet ride. And the cost of it was instead of adding to the underfunded firefighter pension, or increasing the truck replacement fund from zero. I mention these items because those are two O’Brien campaigned on, as printed in this paper. But the Suburban rolls on, at about 14 MPG. I wonder if O’Brien would be so stylin’ if the official vehicle was a bright pink Kia; it’d be a lot easier to park than that Chevy DC-10 land yacht.
So now we get to the crux of the issue, where in modern America an elected official believes he is the public’s master, not its servant. This kind of arrogance leads to financial waste, which is the breeding ground of corruption. The lack of public scrutiny makes it easy pickins, so the first step is for all the area special districts to have their elections on the same day. If the school board, fire/water, parks, and so forth faced the public all at once, it would save tax dollars and create a true forum of self-examination. The Suburban is a sturdy vehicle, but I don’t think it can run over democracy.