Thursday, January 03, 2002

Public money

Another indecent proposal

        Some people will do anything for money. If you don't believe me, watch NBC's Weakest Link, where contestants line up to be insulted by a merciless harpy. People haven't been this craven since the Newlywed Game, when couples discussed their sex lives in exchange for a toaster.

        Closer to home and on another financial tier, consider what former Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey endured for $149,604. a year. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Money often costs too much.”

        Not that public servants are motivated by money alone. Surely the thrill of front-row seats at zoning hearings and a dedicated parking space are powerful lures. There's also the heady satisfaction of a thorough debate about garbage collection or sewers.

        And, of course, they have the priceless opportunity to serve.

A new price tag?

        Cincinnati City Council may, however, have the chance to put its own price tag on this privilege. The city charter fixes the council's pay at 75 percent of whatever the Ohio General Assembly deems appropriate compensation for Hamilton County Commissioners. This year, commissioners will be paid $74,269, so Cincinnati's council members are to get $55,701.75.

        Councilman Paul Booth is working on an amendment that would allow council members to decide their own worth. I'll bet most people think they are worth a lot, maybe more than they are paid. But it's hard to predict the way people will behave around money.

        Luckily, someone has studied this. Bernice Kanner, author of Are You Normal?, has written a book called Are You Normal About Money? (Bloomberg Press, $12.95) culling statistics from such wildly divergent sources as the IRS, AARP, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Federal Reserve and her own questionnaire on Bloomberg's Web site.

        She claims, for instance, that 27 percent of people, “if they scored $10 million, wouldn't give a dime to charity.” Furthermore, she says for the same amount, a fourth of us would abandon all our friends and change our race and our sex.

        She reports that for $1 million, 60 percent would serve six months in jail for a crime they didn't commit and, like the character in the movie Indecent Proposal, 10 percent would loan out a spouse for the night.

Bald greed

        People need considerably less inducement, according to her research, to shave their heads. About 60 percent would do it for $10,000. I guess that makes them normal. Or at least average. And, by the way, for $200, she says, one-third of us would kiss a frog and for $500, more than 60 percent would wear the same underwear for a week.

        We will not stoop to some things, though. Almost half of us would walk right by a penny lying on the ground. And 12 percent of those under 35 wouldn't stoop to pick up anything under a dollar.

        Ms. Kanner concludes that “in the 21st century, it's not religion that's the opiate of the people.” It's making money.

        And Paul Booth thinks we should allow city council to determine how much we'll have to pay them? That we should ask them what they'd like to find in their paycheck? Maybe they think they have too much money and would like to refund some of it to taxpayers. Maybe they would have a completely objective view of their job performance and their worth.

        But even without statistics, we can probably guess that wouldn't be normal.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


A tale of two pilots
Cold snap brings more house fires
Unhappy new year: Time to pay more
Boyfriend faces murder charge
Activist objects to G.I. Joe
DNA tests approved in slaying case
Nominee pool wider, deeper
Norwood jobs merged by new council
Stadium surface going bald
Tomain domain: minting lawyers
Tristate A.M. Report
U.S. Navy waits for no man - or baby
Volunteers in multiple roles at city school
HOWARD: Some Good News
- PULFER: Public money
Complaint says arrest invasive
Middletown council names Schiavone mayor
Middletown hospital removes major obstacle to Turtlecreek Twp. move
Transit authority at crossroads
City also loses top official
Competence for trial hearing waits
Dayton's police chief quits post
Ft. Campbell gets orders
High schools honor alumni in military
Hospital praised as employer