SAVANNAH'S WORLD-FAMOUS hospitality certainly extends to consultants. We've never met a consultant we didn't like.
Whether it's a proposal for a new cruise ship terminal or a new baseball stadium or a new sales tax, our government is fast on the draw and quick on the trigger when it comes to ponying up your money to outside interests for a "feasibility study" on the proposal du jour.
Usually the outside consultants end up —purely coincidentally, I'm sure—confirming whatever scenario will result in the most construction contracts and real estate payments to the most politically well-connected people in town, and the highest possible local tax burden to pay for them.
That said: City Council doesn't always do what the consultants tell them to do —for example with the study-approved, Council-nixed idea to build a new ballpark on the river—and for that they're to be commended.
So I suppose it was just a matter of time before City leadership used their signature go-to move on the most pressing local issue of our time: Crime.
You will be paying $240,000 to David Kennedy and the National Network for Safe Communities in order to implement an idea called "Operation Ceasefire," colloquially also called the Boston Gun Project, after the first metro area in which it was successfully implemented.
The idea is to identify and target the relatively small group of chronic violent offenders (usually less than half of one percent of a city's population) and the open air drug markets and hot spots they typically gather near; to cut down illegal gun trafficking; and to exercise "informal social control" by getting community opinion leaders such as clergy more involved in addressing crime.
In other words, "police work."
Don't get me wrong: Mr. Kennedy is an acknowledged expert in the field with an acclaimed track record and he comes highly recommended. Savannah/Chatham Police are already using some of these techniques.
While the recent Michael Brown/Eric Garner tragedies will make crimefighting everywhere even more sensitive, Kennedy advocates a softer form of police presence and control, which is certainly welcome and timely.
I'm just saying I could have told you the same thing for, oh, say half that price? A tenth?
How 'bout you buy me a drink and we call it even?
Savannah has known literally for decades that the most immediate cause of gun violence here—in addition to larger sociocultural issues—is a relatively small group of chronic violent offenders who are not adequately prosecuted and/or incarcerated and who hang out near open air drug markets.
That's hardly breaking news; the entire Chatham County DA race in 2012, for example, hinged on it.
As did the entire mayoral race back in 1991 when longtime Mayor John Rousakis lost his job to Susan Weiner over the single issue of... wait for it... a relatively small group of chronic violent offenders who weren't adequately prosecuted and/or incarcerated and hung out near open air drug markets.
And we've also known for decades that Savannah, regardless of race, is deeply influenced by the religious community and that young people who regularly attend church are much less likely to be gang members.
Most of us would say $240,000 is chump change if it will help make a serious dent in violent crime. And since most of Mr. Kennedy's ideas are essentially what your dear grandmother would tell us to do, all the more reason it's worth the money!
My concern is: What happens if, for whatever reason, this consultant's ideas don't make much of a dent?
Or if, as is much more likely, they become too politically unpalatable—especially when it comes to closing down open air drug markets in minority neighborhoods?
Do we then draw the completely inaccurate conclusion that we should not focus on the relatively small group of chronic violent offenders who cause most of the problems here, that we should not involve the churches more?
That's the problem with Government By Consultant: The more you lean on that crutch and the more you pass the buck—literally—to outside interests, the more control and governance of your own community you give up.
Again, I'm not bashing Mr. Kennedy. If he can make a living and do people some good by talking basic common sense to municipal governments around the country grown ineffectual due to corruption, bureaucracy, and political correctness, God bless him. And God bless us.
For years I've been kicking around the idea of what I call the "Savannah Tax." That's the extra, unlisted price we all willingly pay, the bonus contract we sign in our heads, in order to live in one of the most beautiful, friendly, and unique cities in the world.
The "Savannah Tax" includes putting up with a grotesquely bloated and largely ineffective school system;
... electing people who gleefully turn government into a three-ring circus;
... tolerating high levels of incompetence and corruption;
... living in a constant state of racial tension and conflict;
... and coexisting with the daily and hourly threat of your house or garage getting burglarized, your bikes and cars stolen, getting mugged, and frequent shootings and homicides all over town.
For years, local leadership, both in politics and in the business community, has taken advantage of our willingness to pay the "Savannah Tax."
Simply put, they know people will put up with an extraordinary amount of crap in order to move to Savannah and live in this otherwise amazing and enriching city.
Another quarter million dollars of your money to another outside consultant is just more of the same game plan, just another payment of "Savannah Tax."
Operation Ceasefire deserves a full and fair chance. I hope Mr. Kennedy is successful.
If it works, $240,000 is cheap.
But don't make the mistake of thinking you and I aren't still the ones ultimately responsible for deciding just how much crap we'll put up with, and how much is too much.
That decision won't cost you a penny. cs