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  • Last modified 15 days ago (June 9, 2021)

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Taking a sip from a fountain of commonsense

It should come as no great surprise — but I’m sure it will provide ample fodder to a handful of venomous people constantly accusing us of all manner of false, hateful things on anti-social media — for me to admit I’m strange.

I have a thing for Caffeine Free Diet Dr Pepper, which seems to have vanished from store shelves since the pandemic. I love techno-gizmos that turn things off and on by talking to them. I absolutely refuse to develop any sense of Christmas spirit until after I have watched for something like the 60th time both popular versions (two others can be ignored) of “Miracle on 34th St.” I’ve boldly gone where only Trekkies go and memorized nearly every line of every “Star Trek” movie and series ever launched. I’ve taken probably a thousand photos of Marion’s courthouse and Central Park fountains.

So please allow a forgivable indulgence of asking why it has taken so long for both fountains, despite a welcome addition of a headpiece to one, to be turned on this year.

We’re well into June, past when both would have danced gleefully to the beat of Chingawassa Days. Yet these signature features of Marion have remained drained of their vitality for months. No one even appeared to be working on them until just recently.

We understand the fountains need work. Everything mechanical does. Try not changing the oil in your car for a few years and see what happens. Part of owning something is being willing to accept the cost of maintaining it — which, for more than 50 years on one fountain and more than 100 years on the other, Marion has been not just willing but downright eager to do.

What was different this year? Was it leftover animus from last year’s silly notion of tearing one of them out and replacing it with a splash pad, as was graphically proposed in photos in a city council packet a year or so ago?

When challenged at the time, officials promptly backed down and insisted that words underneath the photos were misinterpreted. We’re sorry, but when you write something to the effect of “could this” underneath a photo of one of the fountains and “become this” underneath a photo of a splash pad, it’s pretty obvious what you mean.

Marion’s mayor was back talking about splash pads Monday, but city crews showed up that same day to begin readying the larger of the fountains for summer.

Certain officials long have complained about how much routine fountain repairs, much less enhancements to them, cost.

If the cost of maintenance is too much for the city to handle, we might suggest diverting some of the money being raised to provide a roof over a seldom-used Central Park stage. The need for functioning fountains and the number of days each year that they, as opposed to a covered stage, would be used seem much higher.

If that isn’t enough, perhaps we could divert some of the money being spent on applying for grants for things we don’t really need but for which we have to provide matching funds or services.

Need more? Surely we could make do with a half-sheet public works newsletter in black and white instead of a full-sheet, front-and-back design with colorful clip art, increasing the cost at least tenfold.

Instead of two or sometimes three people working on a garbage truck, perhaps we could do with just one, as most private trash haulers do. In Marion, drivers stop and wait for loaders to take turns lifting trash. Elsewhere, the driver becomes the loader when the truck stops since only one of them can be working at any given time.

We respect the dedication of our city’s parks and recreation director, but we note that nearly all the responsibilities in her job title, like her former duties as secretary of the former chamber of commerce, have been shifted elsewhere.

At a council meeting Monday night, she expressed concern about what her duties might be. No one answered. If she could fill some vacancy elsewhere in the city bureaucracy, perhaps the salary paid for a position that no longer has much in the way of responsibilities could pay for things like maintaining park fountains.

Marion has outsourced most of the cost of maintaining its electric and water systems. It has outsourced the creation and mailing of city bills. It charges an arm and a leg anytime anyone wants to see what should be a public document. It has adopted a new transient guest tax, which also could be used for the fountains. Yet the city constantly is claiming poverty while still providing employees such things as cost-of-living raises that exceed the cost of living.

We’re sorry to say it, but it unfortunately feels like government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats — especially when average city workers are threatened by higher-up bureaucrats not to express their views in city elections and not to criticize services provided by the city, even when they are doing so only as residents, not as employees.

We’re tempted to suggest a fund-raising campaign, as MAC apparently will do, to pay for fountain improvements. We certainly would contribute. But in some ways, asking for donations purely for maintenance feels like giving in to bullying.

One thing the mayor said Monday night was right on target. Marion needs to start paying attention to infrastructure — presumably instead of constantly going after shiny new things. Fountains are part of Marion’s infrastructure. It’s time to get them working again without pleading for donors to bail them out.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified June 9, 2021

 

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