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Taxpayers don't like to fund propaganda

By C.T. BOWEN
Published March 15, 2007


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If a picture's worth a thousand words, Commissioner Michael Cox won't need to talk for the rest of his first term in office.

Tuesday, at Cox's urging, commissioners adopted his plan to seek opinions from visitors to county offices through comment cards. The county will spend up to $6,000 on the cards.

Cox borrowed the idea from Tax Collector Mike Olson, who also seeks customer feedback. No wonder Cox wants to emulate Olson. Voters don't seem to mind writing "Mike Olson, Tax Collector" on checks for property taxes, motor vehicle tags, occupational licenses and other fees collected by the tax collector. Olson's last electoral challenge came seven years ago, and he collected more than 77 percent of the vote.

The comment cards certainly could be useful in fine-tuning customer service from county departments. But, Tuesday, Cox went a step further and also advocated inclusion of the five commissioners' photographs on the cards. That is nothing more than furthering individual political careers by helping to build name recognition at public expense.

If commissioners want to get their names and faces in front of the public, they should pay for it out of their own campaign funds. (Yes, we know there are no commission seats up until the 2008 election cycle, but apparently the campaigning is under way.)

Only Commissioner Ted Schrader correctly called the comment card pictures for what they are: shameless self- promotion.

Cox, however, wasn't the only commissioner attempting to further his political agenda. Later Tuesday, Commissioner Jack Mariano offered a poorly disguised attempt to curb public notification of the Penny for Pasco sales tax benefits.

Under a suggestion from County Administrator John Gallagher, commissioners agreed to install street-like signs at improved intersections and on bus shelters purchased and installed with Penny for Pasco sales tax proceeds. The cost is $5,700, to come from gasoline tax.

The voter-approved penny-on-the-dollar tax increase pays for schools, roads, public safety equipment and preserving environmentally sensitive land. Collections on the 10-year tax began Jan. 1, 2005.

Gallagher said the public decision to approve the tax should be acknowledged and people reminded of its tangible benefits long after construction is completed. The Sheriff's Office already affixes Penny for Pasco decals on patrol cars purchased with the tax money. Three commissioners agreed. (Pat Mulieri was absent.)

Mariano, however, said there were enough signs along roads already. His explanation would be more palatable if the bus shelters carried other placards. They don't. The county prohibits advertising on them. If Mariano truly believes the roadsides are cluttered, we encourage him to take a leading role in the upcoming changes to the county ordinance governing commercial signs.

We also remember that Mariano timed his campaign kickoff for the March 2004 election day on which voters considered the sales tax referendum. Candidate Mariano said initially he didn't know how he would vote, then said he voted against the tax. After its approval, he said he was glad the county had the tax in place. Once in office, the commissioner attempted to manipulate the previously approved list of intersection improvements to guide money for better traffic flow to and from the charter school where his children attended, his wife volunteered and he had served as a director.

Had that maneuver worked, we wonder if Mariano would have objected to a Penny for Pasco sign at that Little Road intersection.

Then again, considering the comment cards, Mariano's clutter concerns could have become legitimate. Instead of Lincoln's image on the one-cent coin, the Penny for Pasco road signs could have carried the image of five county commissioners.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 07:25:01]


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