Tuesday’s Columbus City Council meeting gave us a glimpse about how city government was intended to work.
During the meeting the council passed two measures, one to provide the city’s public works department with equipment, the other to establish a youth program targeting children who might be vulnerable to the influences of crime. Both measures are funded by the city’s $556,000 allotment from CARES Act, passed in March 2020.
The public works department will receive the lion’s share of those funds — $500,000— to purchase equipment, including trucks and lawn care equipment.
The Reclaiming Our Youth Initiative, a six-week daytime program for children ages 13-17 and a six-week night program for children of all ages, will receive $50,000.
Both measures address in a meaningful way two important issues.
Of all the city departments, public works is the most consistently criticized, sometimes for valid reasons. But in fairness, it’s difficult to expect the department to meet its responsibilities without the equipment necessary to do the job.
When Public Works Director Casey Bush made his pitch to the council, he noted that two of the city’s three boom trucks — used to pick up debris and trim branches — were out of commission. All three trucks are older models and require almost constant work, Bush noted.
It’s been a big enough issue that last year, Lowndes County supervisors graciously volunteered use of their equipment and crews to help the city get caught up on debris removal after the city had fallen behind in that effort. A couple of weeks later, the county also trimmed tree branches for the city when the city did not have the equipment necessary.
While we question whether a summer youth initiative could be more efficiently implemented by a non-profit instead of by city government, it is without a doubt a positive approach to a spike in crime that has left the community on edge. During the summer, many kids have little structure and lots of free time. The old saying “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” is not without merit.
The new program aims to give kids a structured positive environment at a time when many of our teens are susceptible to negative influences. Wednesday, the Columbus Police Department arrested four juveniles after guns, vest and ammunition were stolen from an unmarked CPD vehicle. It was one of a series of crimes involving juvenile offenders over the past year or so. Establishing a youth program won’t immediately solve the problem, but it’s a practical tool toward stemming the tide of juvenile crime. That $50,000 in CARES money will fund most of this year’s expenses, but the long-term success will depend on the extent to which the community embraces and participates. Adult mentors, especially men, are going to be a big factor in the success of the program.
What should not be lost in the council’s actions Tuesday was not just the measures adopted, but the way the council handled them.
The public works funding passed by a 4-2 vote, but dissenters Rusty Greene of Ward 3 and Jacqueline DiCicco of Ward 6 were not hostile to the idea, instead suggesting that the motion be tabled for further exploration. Greene suggested the funding request could be a part of the city’s budget negotiations. That’s a reasonable suggestion, but ultimately the council decided it would be better to fund the department with CARES Act funding rather than adding it to the list of requests during the budget process, where competing requests from all city departments often mean some things are left out of the budget.
Although the council unanimously passed the youth initiative funding, DiCicco asked a relevant question: What happens to the program once the one-time CARES Act funding goes away?
In both cases, the council’s discussions were thoughtful and incisive. That has not always been the case.
But on Tuesday, we liked what we heard.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.