The economic news is not good for Chester City but kudos to Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland and City Council for not trying to hide it. They published the news on the city’s website for all to see and read. But actually, they caused it so they should be big enough to accept accountability for it.

“It” is the financial instability that threatens the very existence of the city and the same instability that will be the topic of discussion next Tuesday at 7 P.M. at City Hall when the people who produced the city’s financial recovery plan intend to hold a public meeting. All of Chester needs to turnout for this one.

These consultants are not political; at least they aren’t supposed to be. They are paid directly by the state to oversee the financial dealings of distressed cities in the state’s Act 47 program. Their job is to be impartial, professional money people not afraid to speak truth to power about the way things should be done in any given municipality.

They’ve done that here.

Their latest report confirms everything we have reported over the years, and that others have been saying over the years. 

In a nutshell, Chester has been a financial basket case for much of the 21st century but in 2008, under Republican Mayor Wendell Butler, the city began a financial turnaround that put the city on a model path. Between 2008 and 2011, Butler and his team nudged the city closer to the Act 47 exit door.

They had Councilman Shep Garner, a professional accountant, in the role of director of Accounts and Finance and he knew what he was doing in that arena. Garner moved the city’s financial needle so far that even Wall Street gave the city an “A” bond rating.

The latest report says that role, now held by Councilman Nafis Nichols, is among the weakest in city government and the report recommends replacing him with two professional money managers.

Oh, and the bond rating… as Tony Soprano might say, “forgetaboutit!”

The Butler crew had top-flight professional people in ability-critical jobs. Sure, there might have been some political cronies somewhere, but the key people were bona fide professionals who knew what they were doing and had so much integrity, that, in some cases, other companies were glad to pay their salaries and allow them to be executives on loan to the city.

That meant the city had access to top talent and didn’t have to directly pay for it.

That stuff ended when y’all wanted “change” in 2011. That was one of the “changes” you got.

Many people who were helping the city in real, tangible, albeit invisible to the average citizen, ways, backed off when the keys to City Hall changed hands. They didn’t feel welcome or comfortable with the new crew and today’s report reflects that yesterday reality.

Since 2011, there has not apparently been any talent in city government commensurate with the former talent pool and the latest recovery plan report says as much.

The Democrats said Republicans stole money and left them penniless coming in.

The Republicans said they left a multi-million dollar reserve fund on the table that Democrats quickly squandered.

The impartial, professional report sides with the Republicans. It confirms that money was left on the table when the Democrats got here and now it’s long gone; spent on salaries, salaries and more salaries.

One of the things that galls us is the continual portrayal of Chester as “the poorest city.” Many people in government and the private sector make “good money.” Council and the mayor push upwards of $40,000 for “part-time” work; school district employees are in the high five-figures to low six-figures; police officers have routinely made up to six-figures on base salaries and overtime; and so it goes.

There is money in Chester, make no mistake about it.

But there is no channeling it for the greater – the greatest – good.

And now the veil of protection that has been Act 47 for 20 years is about to go away for good. The city has just two years to do what it almost did between 2008 and 2011; that is get out of Act 47. But if it couldn’t do it in 20 years, how will it survive after 2018?

Seems like Chester needs another round of “change.”

Image: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Official Blog

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