Austin on right track: Tap private sector for lights

First, I am no Scrooge, any more than is our friend James D. McCallister. While I might be some decades removed from the time of life when Christmas was pure joy, unalloyed by stress and hassle, I am not one to call the season a "humbug." I need no spirit from the past to startle me into remembering the excitement I felt as a child when downtown decorations went up.

But as I think back to the various cities and towns in which my memory’s eye sees those simple wreaths and lights hung from lampposts, I associate those things with local merchants. And so it is that I praise City Manager Charles Austin for suggesting that perhaps it is NOT the job of the city’s taxpayers to come up with $140,800 to put up holiday lights and decorations in downtown Columbia.

"There are other ways to do this besides the city," says Mr. Austin. Indeed.

Of course, the sorts of merchants with whom you might expect to collaborate on such a thing — the kind that most clearly benefit from the Christmas season (say, Macy’s or Belk) — are rather thin on the ground these days, and in some cases perhaps for the same reason that new lights are needed (the disruption caused by streetscaping).

But before the city government coughs up even such a small amount for decorations, it needs to figure out how to pay for an improved bus system, and deal properly with homelessness. What good are festive lights if they illuminate a human being sleeping on a grate?

10 thoughts on “Austin on right track: Tap private sector for lights

  1. Richard L. Wolfe

    Good points Brad. I agree with you on this one. I do not agree with the fictious seperation of church and state but if I did this would be a good example of one.

  2. Lee Muller

    While it may be a good idea, Austin is just using it to pretend the City is broke, when they are actually spending millions on pork.
    They just spent $50,000 for yet another consultant to come up with the third slogan in 5 years.
    They just spent $500,000 on a consultant to tell them nothing on how to improve the bus system, just to raise taxes to keep it running empty routes.
    They just spent an extra $1,100,000 on a contract for the Riverwalk Greenway, to give it to a high bidder who lost, but had more minority subcontractors, or said they would.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    Brad is right that the city has no business even considering paying $140K for Holiday lights while critical needs are unfunded. Besides, hardly anything is open on Main Street after dark (or before dark for that matter). It’s not a through street, so scarcely anyone would even see them.
    Meanwhile, as the Code Enforcement Task Force reported, the city has only enough fire marshals to inspect roughly a third of the properties a year that are supposed to be inspected annually and that figure leaves no marshals to deal with derelict multi-family and commercial properties. Do we have to have a headline-grabbing fire before something is done about critical needs, instead of window dressing?
    Sorry if you don’t like the new slogan, though, Lee Muller–it’s not meant to appeal to you–it’s meant to appeal to event planners. I think it’s pretty good–taking a perceived negative and turning it on its head….sure beats anything else I’ve heard in the last decade…and you do have to pay for quality creative work. A schoolkid contest is highly unlikely to result in an effective tagline. At least the slogan is designed to generate revenue— Christmas lights–whoops–Holiday lights–on Main Street seem rather pointless all around…and expensive…

  4. Marlboro Man

    I can’t wait to hear all the stories of the event planners who say “We were going to go to Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head but then we found that Columbia is Fabulously Hot!”

  5. Buster

    Several leaders of the City of Columbia should be in jail. If we lived in a just society, where a TRUE accounting was required, this city would be rocked to the core.
    But of coures, the measures now in place are window dressing. The accounting is for the “masses”…and the real scams are never seen or reported…so the sinful behavior continues.

  6. James D McCallister

    Thanks for the shout out, Brad.
    My personal position is pretty much against spending one dime on holiday decorations. The FPA, however, will look into the city’s proposal and see what can be done. The lovely new fountain we have funded, constructed, and will gift to the city has depleted much of the resources that we would otherwise be able to contribute, however. And it is worth noting that we paid for the lighted holiday wreaths that were placed last year.
    What I’ve disliked about this “crisis” is getting peppered with media inquiries before anyone from the city even bothered to contact us. Thankfully, that has now changed.
    A question: On one day, the city says it wants to find $100 million for Assembly St, but the next they say we can’t find $140,000 for holiday decorations? Interesting. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for those railway crossings to be moved…

  7. Lee Muller

    Ms Fenner,
    The other slogans didn’t work out too well.
    That’s why they have all been scrapped and the money wasted.
    The problem with event promoters is they are marketeers. Their answer to everything is marketing, like a person with just one tool, a hammer.
    Here’s some more waste and corruption in just the last few months:
    * Money spent on moving the Farmer’s Market, that is now not going to be built.
    * $8,000,000 overspending on City health plans, almost a 90% overrun.
    * $1,500,000 mistake on the development of the the Kenny’s Auto site in Five Points.
    * $100,000 abuse of travel and expense accounts by upper city employees.

  8. Dave

    I pretty much agree with everything here. Not to mention the previous convention hotel debacle (that’s now the Hilton).
    I wish the Sheraton on Main St well. It seems like all the money spent by the city there has gone to waste. I remember the debacle of those giant light poles in the middle of the street to every beautification project since then. It took a *private* developer, who everyone thought was crazy, to put condos along there – and sell them right away. Obviously there is the market – but it’s going to need the private sector to develop it, and not the city.

  9. Lee Muller

    If these bureaucrats knew anything about business, they would be in business, instead of playing with and losing fortunes of taxpayers’ money.

  10. Lee Muller

    How about using the same decorations as LAST YEAR, which were taken down, and presumably, stored away neatly?

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