The tit-for-tat funding arguments between the Hamilton County commissioners and Hamilton County schools are beginning to look and sound a lot like our dysfunctional Congress.
Today, the installation of modern security cameras in 64 of the county's 76 schools is being held hostage by a condition commissioners put on the project in February.
That was when the commission voted 7-2 to fund the cameras with $2.1 million the county recouped from the 2013 sale of an old Ooltewah school — but only if proceeds from the future sale of old East Brainerd school are split evenly among the commission's nine districts and spent on things decided in consultation with the commissioner in each of those individual districts.
As much as county commissioners want control over school money (its their best way to court your votes), Board of Education members want control, too. After all, they actually understand school needs. And they know that school needs differ from district to district. So they neither want nor need the commission's rather selfish geographic conditions on any future school sale money.
Commissioner Joe Graham, who was behind the condition in the first place, says the school board should fund the cameras with schools' fund savings, and he accused the school system of "hoarding" money. That's laughable considering the schools rainy day fund is $34 million — about three times smaller than the county's $112 million.
But then again it's not laughable.
This county commission's tone-deaf attitude about schools, school needs and school money — or the lack thereof — is not the least bit humorous. In fact, it's pathetic.
Speaking of the commission
Last month, eight of nine Hamilton County commissioners privately signed a letter to the local delegation of the Tennessee General Assembly asking lawmakers to remove language in a state law that ties Hamilton County commissioner salaries and raises to the county mayor's pay.
They claimed they weren't looking for a raise, and members of our local delegation said the commissioners still would have to vote to give themselves a raise.
But commissioners signed and sent the letter with no public discussion and no vote, which got them in trouble with the editor of this page and with some members of the public.
As it turns out, passage of the bill they sought to uncouple their pay from the county mayor's would, in fact, get them a raise. Quite a nice one.
Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he pulled the bill — which he and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire said they introduced as a "courtesy" — because an unforeseen consequence of its passage would automatically give each commissioner about a $4,000 pay boost. They currently make $21,368 a year for their part-time work. The chairman makes $24,638.
Commissioners said they had no idea they would get a bump. State law bases public officials' pay scales on county population, and Hamilton County has grown a lot in the 15 years since local commission pay was tied to the county mayor's. McCormick said that when he contacted some of the commissioners to tell them about the raise they told him to pull the new bill. So he did — as quietly as he and Gardenhire had filed it in the first place.
Commissioner Greg Beck — who started the letter idea — says that while he doesn't want a raise, he still thinks that tying the pay to the mayor's pay is a problem that should be fixed.
"I think I have more discipline than to go and vote myself a raise, but I don't want to handcuff myself and appear that I don't have discipline," he said.
Beck wants lawmakers to write a new bill that fixes the problem without giving commissioners a bump. McCormick says he doesn't want to rush a change this session.
This is really not complicated, folks. Why not have lawmakers vote to uncouple the salaries and then show Hamilton County taxpayers what you're made of. Show us you have the "discipline" to turn down the automatic boost — voting to redirect it instead to remain in the county's coffers?
Will Ferrell snack cakes
The new face of Little Debbie (Will Ferrell) might not sell too many Little Debbie snack cakes for Collegedale's McKee Bakery Co., but it got some laughs Wednesday on The Tonight Show.
Ferrell was quite striking in Little Debbie's straw hat and blue and white plaid dress with the ric rac-trimmed sleeves.
"Do you like snacks?" Ferrell — er a Little Debbie — asked the audience. "Do you like cake? Do you like snack cakes? Tonight everyone in the audience has the opportunity to go out and buy Little Debbie snack cakes," Ferrell quipped.
And after the seven-and-a-half-minute skit, he walked out into the audience and handed out some Little Debbie snack cakes from his cute little brown basket.
It was quite the gift of free advertising for our very own home-grown bakery.
Mike Gloekler, public relations manager for McKee, told Times Free Press Business Editor Dave Flessner that the company is delighted with both the exposure and the humor.
Next time maybe Tina Fey? Shaq?