Show Me the Money; I Will Show You What Really Matters

On March 13, 2018, the Courier & Press published an article detailing the state employees in the Southwestern Indiana area that made at least $100,000 annually.

In total, 111 individuals reached or exceeded this salary level, topped off by Linda Bennett, president of the University of Southern Indiana, earning $294,919. Various other officials made up the “top 10” list including David Smith, EVSC superintendent at $241,787, and six other officials from USI. As the list continued, it eventually included coaches, utilities managers, principals, human resources officers and a number of college professors. Yet almost rounding off the list, at #110, was Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, whose salary for 2017 was $100,533. 

I am sure I am not the only one struck by the fact that Mayor Winnecke’s salary ranked below most of the local high school principals (and the EVSC chief communication officer) and was barely 40 percent of the EVSC superintendent and 34 percent of that of Dr. Bennett at USI.

Although all of these other positions undoubtedly carry numerous challenges that demand a high degree of intellect, skill and persistence, it is curious the person pressed with leading our city found himself making less than the person charged with leading one of the city’s public high schools.

In our own lives, we are constantly faced with just how we allocate the funds available. Even for so-called necessities (e.g., food, water, utilities, etc.), there is a wide range that different individuals and households spend. Some of the range depends on factors less malleable (e.g., climate, location, size of family) than others. But for most of our expenditures, there remains a high variability on just where the money goes. 

Yet if we look more closely at our daily expenses as a government and a family, it is clear that if we follow the money trail, it is easy to see what we value the most. As Thomas Aquinas once said, “The things we love tell us what we are.”  For example, we might say we value charitable causes but find our restaurant expenditures far exceed what we give to non-for-profits. We might espouse that our church community is most important, but find that what we spend on home remodeling far exceeds what we give in the pews. We might say we value our natural surroundings and our health and well-being but find that our mobile and electronic expenses far exceed what we spend on outdoor endeavors and healthy, natural foods.

It is easy to say certain things are really important. But when we step back and look at how we spend our hard earned money, it usually becomes very clear what really matters to us. 

Years ago, we found ourselves involved in an unexpected conundrum. We had moved into a home in the city, only to discover the MLS listing that claimed we had city sewers turned out to be false. During the process of trying to get our house properly hooked up to these utilities, we were told our area was one of almost 30 in the city limits that still did not have properly functioning city sewers. We had no idea, and safe to say we were shocked to find out that many of these areas not only utilized outdated, leaky septic tanks, but some also flowed straight into the storm sewers that spilled into our waterways, including the Ohio River.

Fortunately for us, we met multiple city officials (a couple of which were in the Courier article) that became sympathetic to our cause, especially given we had grey water running freely from an old cistern on our property, where our children played. Our problem was eventually resolved, and the expense was minimal given what we were originally told it would be. But I couldn’t help but think about how many like us still did not have one of the most basic necessities available and just how much sewage was going into the waterways that we depended on (and loved) so much. Meanwhile, it was during this time that the new arena was going in and plans were being put forth for a medical school that is nearing completion.

Just as this article isn’t about criticizing those who make more than our mayor, it also isn’t about criticizing the city for how money has been spent. During the process with our sewers, I came to understand much better about just what kind of constraints (and potential cost) existed, which made funding city-wide sewer projects very difficult.

But what I do think we should all consider is what all of this says about what we value as families and citizens of this wonderful town. There is nothing jaw-dropping about a well-functioning, sanitary sewer system just as there is nothing sensational about a healthy GI system (unless you haven’t had one). And yet, if you look at what is key to keeping households and municipalities running well, it is almost never the spectacular or unique. What is paramount is putting a premium on preserving and enhancing the amazing, yet commonplace realities that make life not just tolerable, but even pleasant and sustainable.

Whether it is the remarkable gift of our brains and bodies, or the undeniable blessing of clean water and food of all kinds, or even the beauty of the natural world that surrounds us, somewhere deep inside we all know that what we should really value are the things we take most for granted, until they are gone or never present in the first place. 

So, the next time you find yourself spending money (or legislating that it be done), I think it is worth taking some time to consider whether it is being used to preserve and develop what really matters.

I love NFL football and other professional sports just like many of you. But one thing has become clear as our family has grown. The NFL could fold, and I would be fine. But when unsanitary, grey water is running down my driveway, which threatens our health and happiness, this is not something that is OK. If we are really going to move forward as a city, we need to keep making sure all of us are putting our money in what is really important.

It may start with considering how money is allocated for city officials. But it ends with taking a real look at just how we are investing in the health, harmony, and happiness of each and every member of our nuclear families and our civic families, too.

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