More bitter than bad coffee

Published 12:41 am Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Raise your hand if your workplace provides free coffee. (I am not raising my hand, in case you are wondering.)

From my experience covering city, county, school and other forms of local government, I have seen some pretty exorbitant ways of blowing the taxpayers’ pocketbooks. All it takes is some convincing arguments and a “this is the way it’s always been” mentality to defend some budget expenses.

Yes, budgets have been cut at every level of government in every state in the nation, and more are on the way for many. Yes, these are “hard economic times,” or whichever overused expression you would like to use to explain the current situation in this country.

But coffee? As John Stossel says, “Give me a break!”

So at a recent Dowagiac City Council meeting, a citizen wanted to make his opinions known about the City Hall’s alleged gross over-consumption of coffee.

“My feeling is the coffee policy is inappropriate,” Bill Lorenz said during the meeting. “It’s wrong. Basically, it’s an abuse of power.

“When you have that level of feeling of entitlement at City Hall, that attitude gets filtered down to the rest of our workers,” Lorenz explained. “That leads to other problems.

“Merry Christmas,” he added.

True story.

I’m all about holding public officials accountable for their actions, especially fiscal decisions. But coffee? How much does a cup of coffee cost? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess they aren’t serving Starbucks-brand brew or espresso drinks. I’m also going to bet they aren’t filling up gallon jugs of coffee and bringing it home to save a buck on the taxpayers’ dime.

Would the $200 per month it costs to serve the entire workforce at City Hall really significantly impact anything? I bet you would have more employees leaving work to go get coffee, therefore resulting in loss of productivity, if you want to get that detailed about the matter. If it’s a real problem, limit the number of pots made per day, or turn it off after a certain hour.

Here’s the thing — it’s not really an issue about coffee. I don’t care one way or another if my workplace serves it.

It’s about nitpicking every little thing officials do down to whether they approve cups of coffee for employees.

Every board’s got one — that citizen or often several citizens who are dedicated to exposing officials’ wrongdoing. Because every official is a scoundrel, right? They are all  out to make big bucks (this is a common misconception about officials’ and lawmakers’ salaries) weaseling citizens’ money from their wallets.

The fact is, these officials were elected to their positions. Citizens have every right to attend the meetings and comment, and more should do so. But to assume every little expense is an indulgence is ridiculous.

I don’t know the Dowagiac City Council members. I don’t know the Dowagiac city employees. But I hope they enjoy their caffeine fix while they can.

Katie Rohman is the managing editor of the Niles Daily Star, Off the Water, Cassopolis Vigilant and Edwardsburg Argus. She can be reached at (269) 687-7713 or at