Living the High Life on the Dime of a Small Town ~ Prairie Village, Kansas

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on March 18, 2011 0 Comments

Roughly six months ago Bell, California made the national news for the shenanigans of its mayor and most of its city council for using municipal funds as their own private Swiss bank account.  Within the new year in my neck of the woods scandal broke about how Kansas City Police Chief Jim Corwin and a few others of his department were going out to the Capital Grille and having themselves a grand time with tabs totaling together at an estimated $1500…however that is chump change when it comes to the tomfoolery of Mayor Ron Shaffer of Prairie Village and some of his council.


I tell you if you have a hankering for travel and fine artery-clogging dining, you should check out a career as mayor or council person for Prairie Village, Kansas.  Granted, you are only paid a token fee of a buck a year, but according to Councilman Al Herrera (appointed to the position by Shaffer in 1999 – the same year Shaffer took office) he is entitled to the travel money for all of his efforts!  Hell. To. The. Yes! Listen, nothing in life is free and if the good people of Prairie Village Ward 1 want the regal representation of Herrera, a man legendary for belittling various constituent concerns as well as calling them derogatory names when the urge strikes him, then they are just going to have to pony up four star hotels, steak suppers, and limo rides to and from KCI.  Civic pride be damned, increase property taxes, raise the sales tax; there are entitlements to be considered!  Besides, any man who declares on his Facebook page that his favorite philosophical quote is, “Government is not the answer, it’s the problem.” you sort of have to agree with considering how he as a governmental representative has conducted himself.


To be reasonable, no one expects these elected officials to take a vow of poverty and walk around in monks’ robes and haircuts (resist toupee joke, resist toupee joke, resist toupee joke).  People understand the occasional business lunch or dinner conducted at local eateries.  Most voters understand that when sending the mayor or council folk to the sundry conventions across the nation that they, from a city 21,447, must attend (lest the surrounding communities of Overland Park and Mission Hills* mock them?) staying at the Motel Whatever off the Interstate in a predetermined dangerous part of unfamiliar city might not do.  However, swanky setups like the Mandarin Oriental in Washington D.C.and Temecula Creek Inn in Southern California Wine Country seem a bit extreme not to mention dining bills that include such culinary delights as lobster thermidor…and let’s not forget that within the last ten years these small government advocates, from a small government, spent a whooping six grand for limousine service to and from the airport.  Hey, no one is thrilled about the chore of parking your car and taking a shuttle to the terminals, but how does one not see the correlation between limited government resources, the trust voters put in you, and the idea that you are exactly what you claim to hate?


Within the last decade Shaffer and the council have spent at least $313,339.71 on travel.  Because of limited space (which I heard is the ‘excuse’) the receipts for city reimbursement are only kept for five years – you know, since computers and scanners have only been in use in small Midwestern towns for the last two years, come this September we are celebrating thirty years of Gutenberg’s printing press! Would it be overkill if I noted that the IRS recommends keeping receipts for seven years?


It will be interesting to see what their municipal credit cards, which are issued to all Prairie Village councilpersons along with the mayor, will reveal.  Maybe some eager beaver local reporter would like to examine the rumor that at one time two accounting books were allegedly used to keep track of the expenditures.  I also understand that there is a pension plan that might have fallen victim to the universe of illegalities.


To be fair to the majority of the council, 23% of the travel budget was used up by Shaffer and Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins – Hopkins has spent an estimated forty grand.


In 2004 Thomas Frank wrote ‘What’s the Matter with Kansas?’ which examined the state at large, but included a special perspective about the area of which I am writing; Frank graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School which is located in Prairie Village.  I think perhaps the microcosm of what’s wrong with Kansas can be found within the heart of a town known by some locals as ‘Perfect Village’.  As our country went through 9/11, Katrina, and fought two wars, the mayor and a few of his council cohorts dined at various locales in the Greater Kansas City Area, as well as other cities, at hundreds of dollars per pop – frankly, I don’t think these people ever passed a steak house that they didn’t decide to stop in.  Further, it is a sad fact that at least $48,000 are unaccounted expenses that they were reimbursed for under the municipal travel account – they may be explainable, they may not.


Locally, Prairie Village had its sales tax raised within the last six months which has had many residents doing their shopping a few blocks away just to avoid the expense.  As noted earlier, the residents have also had their property taxes raised a mill all of which might have been avoided if the mayor and a few of the council were willing to be more reasonable with their perceived entitlements.  It is the slash and burn practices of people like these that kill small American businesses as well as the American dreams of citizens who only hope for a decent house in a nice neighborhood.  While many Americans struggle for adequate healthcare and worry that public education will be stripped down to wooden tool shed, a part time teacher, and thousands of students sharing one book, these government representatives take limos to the airport. I should point out that the mayor notes on his election website that one of his accomplishments is city-wide recycling and yard waste program – ergo shrinking his carbon footprint by a toe.


I don’t know if it is just human nature or just the nature of weak humans to succumb to the siren of once you have power you start abusing it.  It is so easy to joke about corrupt politicians, after all Kansas City’s own Tom Pendergast is still remembered nationally, but despite the story above I still want to believe that government can work and that people elected to positions of governance can resist the urge to take advantage just because the opportunity is there.  Maybe I am just too ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ in my dewy-eyed optimism that government, i.e. politicians and civil servants, really can address the concerns of the citizens with the aim of providing a better life (a pursuit of happiness if you will) and that the reimbursement for doing such a noble thing can be that a politician is held in high esteem in his/her community instead of given a carte blanche deal at the city’s most expensive steakhouse.  I don’t think I’m alone in my optimism because if I was a betting girl I would say this optimism, after the hypocrisy is exposed, is what is right about Kansas.


Westerfield © 2011


*Overland Park, population 177,000, has a city council travel budget of over fifty grand, ten grand less that Prairie Village.

 

Mission Hills, about 3600 residents, has no travel budget for its city council.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was originally called ‘Living the High Life on the Dime of a Small Town ~ Prairie Village, Kansas Where the Mayor and Select Council Members Travel by Limo, Stay at Fancy Hotels and Eat Lots and Lots of Steak’

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