Challenging as it is to debate Silly Putty with a straight face, the latest back and forth between Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen and Coroner Rob Russell brings a worthwhile debate to the forefront.
Lauzen took Russell to task for spending a little more than $1,000 on Silly Putty as giveaways, which Russell said can be an “icebreaker” at community events such as National Night Out.
Lauzen and Russell have seemingly been at odds since both took office, and that context makes it easy to overlook the substance of the issue. Lauzen publicly challenged Russell for spending taxpayer money on Silly Putty, while Russell said it is important “to create a good impression” in the community.
Singling out Russell as Lauzen did is probably unfair as it is relatively commonplace for departments to distribute cheap knickknacks at community events. Nonetheless, if you’re advocating for more resources for your office, as Russell is, including the need for a modernized coroner facility, opening yourself up to the perception of making frivolous purchases is probably imprudent.
As Kane County Chronicle reporter Ashley Sloboda has detailed in today’s paper, the city of St. Charles and several local police and fire departments have found occasions to give away items such as temporary tattoos, water bottles and key chains, sometimes corresponding with the theme of an event.
We recognize it is important for some organizations that serve the public to do community outreach and build trust, especially police departments. But with tight budgets practically a universal reality these days, limiting expenditures on nonessential items is the way to go.
Government officials making these types of purchases need to be sure they are thinking through their budget priorities before buying gifts – even cheap ones – to hand out to the public. If it is decided that the purchases are worthwhile, they should be bought in conservative quantities and, ideally, in a way that includes useful contact information or other details for the public’s benefit.
Seeking donations to pay for extras – as some departments say they do – might be the best practice.
Silly Putty might be child’s play, but making smart decisions with taxpayer dollars is not.