04pittsI’m glad cooler heads prevailed regarding the Fayetteville City Council’s need for a grandiose inauguration at taxpayers’ expense. But I’m also saddened to know there are some on that dais who believed spending in excess of $7,000 of public money for ego stroking is alright.

Thank you to Councilmen Bill Crisp and Jim Arp, who understand the value of someone else’s money. While the $7,000-plus proposed for the event wasn’t much compared to what that governing body spends in a year, hosting a party for yourself and your political supporters at taxpayers’ expense just didn’t smell right.

Of course, I’m biased toward pinching public dollars. And I’m used to holding a more formal council inauguration. From 1989 through early 2006, I worked in the Fayetteville mayor’s office. And it was that office – with the help of the mayor’s super-efficient executive secretary – that was responsible for planning the inauguration.

During my first five or six elections, council seating took place in the council chambers, so rent was never an issue. The chief judge for district court, the late Judge Sol Cherry, administered the oath to all council members and the mayor. The cost of the whole affair was in the hundreds – not thousands – of dollars. The cost included a fancy city coffee cup and a thank you letter for the judge, parchment paper for the oath of office for each council member and the city clerk, a program printed in-house, and I think there were punch and cookies in the lobby

The “I want it my way” revolution among council members started slowly. At first it was about more reserved seating; then, each wanted their own choice as to who would administer the oath of office, even though some did not qualify for the job.

The first break with tradition came in 2001 when Mayor-elect Marshall B. Pitts decided to change venues. With just days before the inauguration, his secretary and I briefed him on the arrangements. He sat quietly as we finished our briefing and calmly replied that holding the inauguration in the council chamber would not provide adequate space. He wanted something larger since he expected a lot of people to show up with or without seating tickets.

He was right, of course. Pitts was the first African- American to be elected mayor. It was a historic moment for Fayetteville. And, there would be a lot of people there.

We found another venue. The only other option on short notice was outside, in front of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum’s back entrance. The inside was reserved for the reception, again keeping the budget to a minimum by hiring Fayetteville Technical Community College’s cooking school.

Mayor-elect Tony Chavonne in 2005 shattered the mold completely. When he took office, he relinquished what had been up to then the mayor’s staff. Instead, his political entourage handled the inauguration, except for setting up tables and chairs in the ASOM. It became the first extravaganza for Fayetteville City Council inaugurations and set the new standard.

And I think that should be the norm. Let the political supporters plan and fund the inauguration and take city government and public dollars out of the coronation business.

Photo: Marshall B. Pitts Jr., Fayetteville's first African-American mayor

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