THE CHAMPIONS |  S A V E   I R V I N E


City Officials Paying for a Pat on the Back!

Champions of Industry

COMMENTARY
By JOHN STOSSEL -  ABC NEWS

July 9, 2004 Across America, local politicians are getting awards for managing their towns well. Sounds good, except it turns out that some of the politicians are buying the awards, not with their own money, but with your tax dollars.

The honors they're buying, the Champions of Industry Award, are given out by sportscaster Pat Summerall. The awards recognize the politicians for managing their towns so well.

Lots of cities have joined Summerall's list of champions. New Smyrna Beach, Fla., and Tarpon Springs, Fla., and Dublin, Calif., Mesquite, Nev., Ocean Springs, Miss., Alpharetta, Ga., and Irvine, California , are just a few of America's "best managed" towns, recognized as "cities of excellence" by Sumrall's award.

But it turns out that to receive the award, these cities have to pay Summerall's company $24,000.

Cayce, S.C., was solicited by Summerall too, but they turned down the award because they didn't want to pay for it. Nor did the town of New Port Richey, Fla., where Tom Finn is on the City Council.

Finn says, "I would have to describe this Pat Summerall award as a fraud."

Lexington, S.C., was also a winner of Summerall's small city management award. Mayor Dan Breazeale told 20/20 he was proud to win because, he said, "I think it's a recognition of a very well-run municipality."

But Lexington city councilman Randy Halfacre disagreed. Halfacre, who cast the lone vote against the appropriation, told us, "That recognition should always come free. We should never have to invest in recognition to pat ourselves on the back."




Halfacre was seconded by David Perry, chairman of Lexington's Chamber of Commerce, who called the award "a heist."

In towns that paid for the award, few people said they thought it was "prestigious." Even fewer thought it was a good idea to have to pay for an award, especially when we told them the price tag.

The award does come with promotional benefits like an ad in Forbes magazine and a video praising the town, some of which runs once in an ad on cable TV. And some of the money goes to celebrities like Cheryl Ladd of the old Charlie's Angels, who narrate the videos.

It seems to me the award is just a ploy to sell the video presentations.

John Criswell, who speaks for Summerall's program, calls the award "a recognition package" and says towns must go through "stringent screening" to win.

But isn't this just puffing up the egos of small-town politicians?

Criswell said, "There is a city council in most of these small towns that has to vote as to whether they want to be a part of this recognition."

Yeah, they vote to say, let's use taxpayer money to make us look good.

In "award-winning" Tarpon Springs, Fla., the sponge divers are the town's big tourist attraction. They work hard, pulling up sponges from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. And they couldn't believe where their taxes were going.

"It's not their money they're giving away, it's our money," one diver said.

Tarpon Springs' Mayor Beverley Billiris says the award was well worth the $24,000 to promote the town. "We're paying for promotion," she said, adding that the cost of the award is cheaper than running advertisements for the town.

"And there is an actual award and a plaque," Billiris said.

But normally you don't pay for an award.

Billiris said that's just "semantics."

I told her it looks like a way for politicians to use other people's money to get a pat on the back.

"If a city doesn't pat themselves on the back, who else is gonna do it for you?" she said.

Peter Nehr, the only Tarpon Springs city commissioner to vote against spending $24,000 for the award, felt differently. He said, "It's almost like going into a trophy store and buying your own trophy and putting it on your wall, and saying that I was the best."

One man we talked to in Lexington, S.C., was a little blunter about it. "That's stealing," he said, "from us, from the taxpayers."

Right.

Give me a break!




When Good Officials Go Bad!
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