City needs to make good decisions

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 20, 2015

At the April 7th meeting, Picayune’s City Council hired Retail Strategies, a consulting firm headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., to persuade retail companies to locate in Picayune.  The cost of the contract is $110,000 over three years. One objective is to eliminate the supposed loss of sales tax to nearby municipalities. Let me get this straight. We paid a Birmingham firm $110,000 of taxpayer’s money to encourage those same taxpayers to spend their money in Picayune.

It’s well known that companies demand the maximum amount of incentives and subsidizes possible from municipalities before locating. Or, using the terms from Retail Strategies’ web site, each municipality will work to establish a working list of economic incentives available to retail users. Decoded, it means the taxpayers will pay retailers to make a profit. Socialists label it as socializing the debt and privatizing the profits. The incentives package could cost millions.

Knowing this, the council should have requested more information before blindly accepting the agreement. However, the council never bothered to go beyond the infomercial and ask the most basic questions to obtain the critical information needed to make a responsible decision regarding spending our money.  Two of which are, what is the amount of the extra cost demanded and what could be the unintended consequences associated with this unknown factor?

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In the eyes of the council, once the “additional revenue card” is played, the dollar signs trample any logic to explore additional information. Focusing entirely on the additional revenue aspect exposes a flaw in the decision making practice of the council.

This is not a training session to teach decision making to those in power. They should have mastered the skill before becoming city officials with the authority to make decisions that affect the lives and money of ordinary citizens. As you can see, decisions by the city officials encompass more than just accepting PowerPoint presentations from professional salesmen seeking expensive and profitable contracts from the city. The sales pitch is loaded heavily with attractive

statistics and always includes the three vague components that seal the deal:  increased sales tax revenue, positive economic impact and quality of life. Without the ability to fact-check the statistics, municipalities just accept what the firms tell them. Decisions of this nature should not be taken lightly or fast-tracked without fully exploring all aspects that could be detrimental to the taxpayers in the future. I can draw a parallel between a jury trial, the most important decision making process, and the city’s decision method.

It would be equivalent to after the prosecution presents its information, the jury refuses to hear or explore anything presented by the defense, and renders a decision based only on the prosecutor’s evidence. No sane person would accept this as a responsible decision.  Although to a degree of lesser importance, this seems to be the path taken by the council to accept Retail Strategies’ contract.

A decision based solely on the information presented by Retail

Strategies is not responsible representative government.  Based on their actions, a re-education in proper representative government and decision making seems appropriate for the city administration.

By Jeff H. Smith