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  • Last modified 197 days ago (Dec. 23, 2019)

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Santa had better watch out

Think you have a tough job? Imagine all the responsibilities that have to be evaluated in Santa’s annual performance review.

First, he has to make a few billion gifts — more than Walmart and Amazon combined — all without becoming a mega-billionaire like the owners of those paltry concerns.

True, he has underpaid Third World elfin labor to help him at his off-shore factories, where conditions are often direly frigid. But just keeping those factories hidden from workers’ rights advocates must be more than a full-time job.

Then he gets just one night to deliver all of those gifts everywhere in the world, even to places where dogs bark at letter carriers — all without the benefit of big trucks, computer-readable barcode labels, or curbside mailboxes. And he has to do this not during normal work hours but on a holiday night, with absolutely no overtime pay and no hazard pay for squeezing down carcinogenic chimneys.

Talk about pay: This guy works for milk and cookies — and we don’t even know whether he’s gluten and lactose tolerant.

Be honest, now. Did you put out an extra cookie this year to account for the rising cost of living? How about a seniority raise? Santa’s been around for centuries, after all. And how about a holiday bonus? If anyone deserves on, surely it has to be Santa.

We’d all better watch out or the old elf will cry, pout, angrily shove his red uniform in our faces, walk out, and take a job as a county worker. Oh, wait, he can’t. Part of his job description is to remain jolly at all times, and objecting to working conditions isn’t part of being jolly. That means no complaining about having to maintain an unhealthy body weight to conform to media-induced stereotypical images of people working in his field.

None of these are Santa’s toughest duties, however. Where Santa struggles with unreasonable expectations is in maintaining a naughty and nice list using evidence more than reliable than rantings on social media.

Face it. Kids are easy. Even if they’re naughty once in a while, they’re kids, and kids are mostly nice. It’s the rest of us Santa has trouble classifying.

He probably needed a few extra sheets of paper this year to handle everyone in Washington, D.C. More than a few bad things seem to have been done at one end of Pennsylvania Ave., where lumps of coal undoubtedly will be delivered, unexpectedly helping fulfill a campaign promise to boost the coal industry.

It’s the other end of Pennsylania Ave. where Santa may need to deliver more than just one sleigh full of coal.

Most of the people there are lawyers, and one of the things lawyers always point out when serving as prosecutors is that they don’t want to waste time and taxpayer money pursuing charges for which conviction is unlikely.

Why different rules suddenly seem to apply once they move inside the Beltway is reason enough for them to expect more than a few lumps in their stockings this year.

But that one’s easy. Politicians are only slightly less likely to make the nice list than are all those people who put out radio and TV ads and email spams touting miracle cures that legally aren’t designed to treat anything and thus are immune from being exposed as quackery.

Naughty-or-nice decisions become really tough when you get to the local level. We hate to beat a dead reindeer, but take wind farms, for example.

Right now, the Not-in-My-Backyard club is pursuing a legal challenge of a wind farm in the southern part of the county. We think it’s ill-advised, but we won’t call them naughty or nice, just naïve — a list Santa fortunately doesn’t have to keep.

What we do worry about is the really nice design of the website for the 8th Judicial District — the court that will hear the NIMBYs’ case. The site’s quite pretty and generally quite useful, making it well-suited for the nice list. But the dominant picture on the first page is of a whole array of wind turbines — something we imagine might make the NIMBYs question the courts’ impartiality and whether the courts might actually belong on the naughty list.

Santa has some additional evidence to consider in making that decision. Last week, a bunch of district judges filed suit seeking to force the legislature to give them more money. Talk about conflict of interest. Asking courts to decide whether courts are getting enough tax money is a labor-management tactic bold enough to raise Jimmy Hoffa from his grave, assuming it can be found.

The naughty-nice dilemma gets even more complicated as we move even closer to home. More than 200 free turkeys paid for by the federal government and donated to anyone and everyone in the county sounds like an act that would be a wonderful candidate for the nice list — unless you happen to be one of several food stores in the county, struggling to keep our community from becoming a food desert by profiting from, among other things, turkey sales.

Marion similarly is blessed with a wonderful new electronic sign that promotes civic events — another strong candidate for the nice list until you wonder why it’s now promoting, apparently at government expense, private, profit-making events that otherwise might have placed ads in local media struggling to keep our community from becoming a news desert.

Something that needs neither flashing signs nor court cases to constantly re-inject itself into every conversation, including this one, is this year’s gift that keeps on giving, whether you want it to or not.

It sure seems nice that Marion County, along with its school districts and other taxing entities, will earn windfalls in the form of payments in lieu of taxes from the two legislatively tax-exempt wind energy projects in the county.

The folks bringing us these projects have tried hard to earn their way onto the nice list. They’ve done volunteer projects, they’ve rented hard-to-rent buildings, they’ve purchased many items from local businesses, including this one, and their workers spend many dollars in our communities.

Lost in all the bickering over whether they should be here, however, has been how much they will be paying for that right. Amounts offered by both the northern and the southern wind farms seem like true windfalls — until you compare them to rates paid by other, similar operations in other parts of the state.

Did we manage to lose a great portion of our potential windfall because of all the hassling from NIMBYs? Or were local officials who have been so intent on becoming Dawn Quixotes too busy worrying about legalistic specks that they ignored huge financial motes? Or are the wind farm operations just a lot smarter than the local people they’re dealing with?

Santa will have a hard time figuring out who to put on which list with this one. All we can hope is that he doesn’t decide he’s fed up with cookies, wants his free turkey, and plans to go to work for the county, which doubtlessly will send him to free training to make him a file clerk with few responsibilities, extended holidays, and short work hours.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Dec. 23, 2019

 

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