We don’t hear much about UFOs these days, but after a visit from a mysterious interplanetary traveler recently, Crotonblog discovered that they do indeed exist. Visible marks left by his spacecraft can still be seen in the soft earth of the adjoining yard. Having traveled from a planet some 250 million miles away, he gave his name as Klaatu. He wanted to understand life in a small American suburban town, and had chosen Croton as the subject of his study. “I visited your planet once before to bring an anti-war message to the people of the Earth,” he told Crotonblog. “In fact they made a film in 1951 about that visit. It was called The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Tall, soft spoken and gracious, he bore a striking resemblance to British actor Michael Rennie who played the part of Klaatu in that film.
In the time he spent in Croton, Klaatu became fascinated by our village’s election practices. He was puzzled that each year in early spring its “friendly” citizens divide into two factions and proceed to hurl bitter insults at one other in a contest to govern this little community numbering less than eight thousand souls, most of whose males and many of its females desert the village each weekday to work elsewhere. He became a regular watcher of village board meetings on Channel 78 and on his own impressive portable computer, an advanced device like nothing seen on Earth.
Quite familiar with American culture, politics, history and even financial matters (TV, radio and telephone communications easily travel through outer space), he was surprised that remuneration for the posts board members seek, governance of the village, was a mere pittance. “I find it hard to imagine what kind of talent your village attracts when remuneration is at what elsewhere on your planet would be described as coolie wages,” he remarked. “An annual wage of $5,000 for the mayor and $3,000 for each of four trustees can only attract either dedicated self-sacrificing types, flagellant masochists or power-hungry individuals.”
When he learned that the actual day-to-day operation of the village is left to hired professionals, he pointed out that their super-generous pay and more than ample benefits far exceed any amount they might earn in the sharp-elbowed world of harsh, competitive business. Klaatu found it remarkable that, insulated from the struggle and strife they would have faced in the world outside, these employees are ensconced in their cushy jobs virtually for life, and only death or the most egregious acts of moral turpitude would cause them to be removed.
Klaatu was particularly intrigued by Croton’s 2007-08 budget of almost $16 million and particularly by its salary scale, which he termed “munificent.” He then proceeded to draw facts from his prodigious memory bank and pointed out to Crotonblog some eye-opening statistics. “Under your system of government in Croton, increases in salary and benefits are mandated by contracts with the various classes of employees. But did you know,” he asked, “that this tiny village has just given a 5% raise to the village manager and that he now earns $176,029?” Crotonblog stammered, “Well, no. Few of us in this village know this. It must be buried in the budget that was passed by the Republican majority.”
He continued, “And do you know that at $176,029, your village manager now makes more than the governors of 47 of the 50 states that comprise the United States? Only the governors of California, New York and Michigan make more than your village manager. For example, Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, whose salary is $179,000, earns only a measly $2,971 more than your Village Manager. Can you believe it? Mr. Spitzer earns a mere three grand, I believe you call it, more than your village manager for running a state with a population of 19 million and a budget of $120.6 billion. To use another expression that I picked up here, ‘Something’s badly out of whack.’ In the case of the Michigan governor, Jennifer M. Granholm, with a salary of $177,000, she makes only 971 bucks, as you call your dollars, more than your Richard Herbek for running a state with a population of 10 million and a budget of $43.4 billion.
“But, closer to home, the unkindest cut of all is this: For running the business of the tiny village of Croton, with a population of about 7,800 and a budget of under $16 million, Richard Herbek, the village manager, at $176,032 earns a salary larger than the Westchester County executive. Yes, more than Andy Spano, a veritable human dynamo who, for a mere $160,760, manages the entire county of Westchester, with its population edging close to a million and a budget of $1.7 billion.”
Klaatu went on, “Next, let’s look at the salaries of the village engineer and village treasurer, who each received a whopping 8.5% increase. Daniel O’Connor, the village engineer, and Abraham Zambrano, village treasurer, now earn $128,786 and $125,318 respectively. Did you know that they both take home more than the governors of 35 of the 50 states? In other words, these two guys individually earn more than the governors of 70% of the states of the United States. In addition, the village engineer has also been given an assistant engineer at a starting salary of $80,000—a nice bonus. And by the way, wasn’t Mr. Zambrano the architect of the phony water-bill scam that was written about in newspapers all across the United States, the one who angered and upset local residents with his unfeeling stupidity?”
“As for Ken Kraft, the superintendent of public works, who received a 5.5% increase, at a salary of $110,169, he now makes more than the governors of almost half of the 50 states—24 states, to be exact. What’s so incomprehensible about the increase given to Mr. Kraft,” Klaatu continued, “is that at the April 16th village board meeting at which the Democratic trustees declined to vote for the unreasonable increases in the fees charged for parking at the village’s parking lot, your Mayor Schmidt publicly berated Mr. Kraft. Mr. Schmidt unmercifully ripped him up one side and down the other for his failure to maintain the station parking lot, and placed the blame on him for the many complaints about deterioration of services voiced by parking lot users at the April 9th budget meeting.”
Klaatu put down the pencil he had been using to make his calculations and leaned back in his chair. “Frankly speaking,” he said, “in my estimation, the residents of Croton are paying too much for what they get. I do not understand how you people can survive fiscally with such largesse and why you put up with it.” He added, “Or how long you can survive without causing village citizens hard pressed by taxes to move elsewhere. Somebody has not been paying attention and has been ‘giving away the store,’ as one of your expressions has it.”
Klaatu suggested, “Perhaps the people are diverted by the meetings that are a sop to the people to give them the impression that this is democracy at work.” He himself had been fascinated by the spectacle of the semi-monthly meetings at which the five members govern the destinies of this little village. He noted that such meetings were usually poorly attended by village residents, although members of pressure groups with their own agendas could be counted upon to be in attendance and to be very vocal. He liked our description of them as “the usual suspects.”
“What you have in your village is the paradox of five people earning a total of $17,000 a year for their services directing the activities of four persons earning a total of well over a half million dollars annually, and whose salaries are augmented handsomely whether they performed well or not and whose jobs have turned into sinecures. It’s like a cozy little club of insiders looking out for one another. Funny thing, I thought Republicans were supposed to be in favor of reducing taxes.”
With that, he announced, “I regret that I must say goodbye and return to my own planet now. Heed well my warning about village finances.” We shook hands and said our farewells. Exhibiting surprising grace, he walked with long strides across the yard to the gleaming metallic spaceship. As he mounted the sloping ramp, Klaatu turned and winked at Crotonblog knowingly. He called out, with an attempt at an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, “I’ll be back.” Then the ramp was drawn up and closed behind him. With a giant whoosh, his spacecraft lifted upwards and was gone.