A question of leadership

Published 7:19 am Friday, October 10, 2008

Everett Williams summed it up well at Monday night’s public forum on Franklin’s fiscal 2009 property tax rate.

“These are extraordinary times requiring extraordinary actions,” the Kings Lane resident told City Council members numerous times during a heartfelt presentation that carefully outlined the dire state of the local, state and national economies.

To Williams’ eloquent plea for fiscal restraint by our city fathers, we’d add only one thing: Extraordinary times also require extraordinary leadership.

Whether this City Council will provide that leadership remains to be seen, but the early signs are not encouraging.

On Monday night, we heard a lot from council members about how tough their job is.

We heard lectures to citizens who want a smaller city government — and who voted overwhelmingly for that smaller government in the May elections — that it’s not enough to simply say, “Cut.” Those citizens apparently must tell the City Council specifically what to cut and figure out ways to protect services. So much for representative government.

We heard false choices between public safety and low taxes and between adequate schools and fiscal discipline.

We heard passionate defenses of municipal employees and about the pain a revenue-neutral budget would cause them.

What we never heard from a single council member during the nearly three-hour forum was a strong defense of the homeowners and business owners who are the lifeblood — indeed the only hope — for a struggling economy. No council member spoke up for the renters who will feel the brunt of higher property taxes. In a city with the fifth-highest unemployment rate in Virginia, no council member rose to the defense of the common man who struggles to keep food on the table. No council member advocated for the hundreds of senior citizens whose retirement accounts have taken a beating in recent weeks.

When council members reconvene Oct. 27 to set the tax rate, the choice is between extraordinary leadership that will guide our city through these turbulent times or more of the same ordinary leadership that citizens believed they had rejected in the last election.