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After all these years, and money, it’s time to try harder

Covering county government these days makes me feel like a banker. The hours aren’t half as good, but I’ll bet I follow nearly as many dollars in a month as some of those bigwigs do.
The flow of revenue from Caesars has caused some mighty good problems ‘ what optimists and some CEOs prefer to call ‘opportunities’ ‘ since the first check arrived in January 1999.
And why, you ask, am I complaining? I’m not. I just like to share.
The first official meeting I attended was the board of commissioners, on the first Monday of October 1983, a little more than 20 years ago. The three commissioners sitting behind the bench in the old commissioners’ room were chairman J. Frederick Royse, Edward B. Sieg and the late Wayne Brown (husband of Elizabeth Brown of Elizabeth, who wrote a column for this newspaper for many, many years before her death in 2002).
Royse sometimes would tuck his chin under, peer out at the gallery and speak in an authoritative voice. Once when he complained of something I had written, someone (I think it was Sieg, but I’m not sure) suggested they get rid of me. ‘No,’ Royse said. ‘The next one could be worse!’
Sieg and Brown glanced at each other, mumbled something, and chuckled in agreement. I vowed (to myself, of course) to try harder, to improve at whatever it was I had done wrong. But I wasn’t sure what that was because I couldn’t make out the mumbling. But they were such good guys I decided to try …
Then it was back to listening to folks beg to get the dust settled on their busy roads so they and their children could breathe again. So it was time for Sieg and Brown and Royse to try harder.
I bring this up for two reasons:
First, those were the days when buying a microphone, much less blacktop, for those guys to use could put a kink in the county general fund. That’s the impression many people had, but I knew better. Microphones aren’t that expensive.
It was more a matter of protecting the ‘mumble’ factor, which, to this day, is the best defense I know against Indiana’s Open Door law.
Anyway, now that we’re flush with all this riverboat cash, we have microphones for each of the three commissioners and the seven council members. We have a podium for speakers, who also have their own microphone. Not that that means much, though. A hand placed over the mike can create the same mumble factor. It’s just easier to spot.
We even have a larger room now, a courtroom transformed into a commissioners’ room, with seats for all the regulars and most other visitors, too. We ‘have’ much to be thankful for as a direct result of Caesars’ riverboat casino, including improved ambulance service, firefighting equipment, education dollars, and all these dust-free roads, of course. There is promise of much more to come.
Second, there are times when I believe this overnight wealth hasn’t brought much satisfaction. Sure, there are few complaints about the state of our roads. But it seems there is less camaraderie than in the days of Sieg, Royse and Brown. The world has become frustratingly complex with information overload and decisions to be made.
It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it’s never enough, is it? Should we build a hospital? Should we buy another fire truck? When can we ever build an animal facility? Can we ever finish the old jail restoration? This list is way too short, but it’s enough for you to get the picture.
There are times when we, through our officials, sound like spoiled brats. And there are times when we behave graciously.
I am reminded of the old adage, ‘Money can’t buy happiness.’ And the retort, of course, is: ‘I know, but I’d sure like to give it a try.’
And so it is that it’s our chance to give it a try, to set an example for others. To try harder.

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