A weekly band concert? Or a police officer to keep us safe for a week? You choose

Sunday, May 3, 2009

When Jay Knudtson became mayor of Cape Girardeau seven years ago, I'm sure he harbored some concerns about how he might be depicted in the newspaper -- specifically in this column.

After all, I had, during the eight years Al Spradling stood at the city's helm, a great deal of fun at the mayor's expense. As it turned out, Mayor Spradling was both a good sport and thick-skinned. As I write this column I see hanging over my computer screen a framed proclamation signed by Mayor Spradling. The proclamation declares that "I ... as Mayor of the City of Cape Girardeau and as my last official act, hereby proclaim the World-Famous Downtown Golf Course as the official honorary golf course in the City of Cape Girardeau and ask all citizens to please replace their divots and fix their pitch marks as they traverse the town."

The proclamation is signed April 5, 2002, which was, indeed, Spradling's last day as mayor.

You will be reading more about the Downtown Golf Course -- the only officially sanctioned course of it's kind in the entire world (until someone tells me otherwise) -- in the coming weeks. The First-Ever Fourth Annual Louis J. Lorimier Memorial World-Famous Downtown Golf Tournament and All-You-Can-Eat Catfish Buffet is scheduled for June 28.

Just think, this fundraiser for the Red House Interpretative Center wouldn't be possible without a good-humored mayor named Al Spradling.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Mayor Knudtson doesn't have a good sense of humor. Frankly, I've laughed at a lot of things he's said. And I'm not saying the mayor is thin-skinned. I don't think anyone could be mayor all those years and not have a few callouses.

But the fact is, I've let the mayor be the mayor with very little misguided influence from yours truly. I thought it was the fair and decent thing to do. Besides, Mayor Knudtson is taller, younger and stronger than I am.

Mr. Mayor, my hands-off policy is coming to an end. You only have one year left as mayor, so I think it's time for you to take your licks.

And after your stand last week on the Cape Girardeau Municipal Band concerts, I think you need a good dose of budgetary reality.

Over the years, I've spent countless hours and wasted barrels of the Southeast Missourian's ink writing columns about fiscal responsibility. I believe in being frugal. And if anyone ever saw fit to trust me with their money, I would be super-frugal.

I've always considered Mayor Knudtson to be a fiscally sound mayor, after all, he's a banker -- not one of those goofy bankers you've been reading about in the past few month, the ones who got caught in all that financial quicksand. At least as far as I know.

So imagine my surprise when the mayor gets his photo on the front page of this very newspaper and says he's against cutting one of the 15 summertime performances of the Municipal Band in order to save $1,500. He said if it came to that, he would pay the $1,500 out of his own pocket.

This is the mayor who went into office about the time some critical decisions were being made about the then-proposed River Campus for the the performing and visual arts planned by Southeast Missouri State University. The mayor openly declared he didn't have much affection for the arts, but he said he saw the benefits of the River Campus and was going to do everything he could to resolve some of the prickly hangups facing the River Campus. He kept his word.

But here's a mayor who I'm sure doesn't know the difference between a Sousa march and polka drawing a line in the sand on cutting a band concert. One band concert -- out of 15.

My beef isn't just with the mayor. I have a few bones to pick with the city council members who listened to the mayor's offer to pay for one of the band concerts and didn't take him up on it. "Write the check," one of them should have shouted.

Councilman John Voss did have the presence of mind to suggest that a freewill offering could be taken at the band concerts to help the city out in its time of budgetary crisis. But the mayor said that would send "a bad message."

What? The city's taxpayers already have received, loud and clear, the message that the city is in deep doo-doo, financially speaking. It would come as no surprise to anyone attending a Wednesday evening band concert that somebody had to pay the piper.

Pass the hat? You bet!

And while you're at it, how about a community bake sale at every concert? Come enjoy the music and bring a few dozen cookies to sell to your fellow music lovers.

Or how about a lottery to pick the guest conductor of the week? Instead of letting community members lead the band, give the chore to the lucky person whose name is pulled from a bucket in which contenders have forked over at least $20.

Some of those folks who go to the band concerts live close enough to drive their riding lawnmowers to the park a few minutes before all the ruckus starts. They could mow the grassy hill where people bring their lawn chairs. Ka-ching! A few dollars saved out of the parks budget.

Just think of the White Elephant Sale you could have every week at the band concerts. Everybody could bring all that junk that never sells at regular garage sales. But if you tell potential buyers that they have to fork over some cash for the fondue pot Aunt Agnes gave you for your wedding or dozens of band members will have to make ends meet without their handsome weekly checks, they'll pay up. They always do.

So, Mr. Mayor, we can do all of that -- and more -- to save the band concerts. Or we can cancel one of the concerts. Good grief. Can't we make it through one more week without the trill of a clarinet, the rat-a-tat-tat of a snare drum or the oompah of a tuba? Of course we can. That's the sacrifice you make to keep your city afloat.

Doggone it. If the federal government can save its financial skin by making cuts $100 million at a whack, then this fine city can do it $1,500 at a time.

Man up, Mr. Mayor. No one said your last year was going to be easy.


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