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franklin county times

Official greeters?' Yes, even in cash-starved Mississippi

By Staff
Oct. 3, 2001
Recession? Medicaid deficits? Revenue shortfalls? Essential service reductions?
Rumors, I suppose. None of those problems are such that they can't be solved with a hearty handshake, a pat on the back and a kind word from a nice old gentleman with a familiar face and a voice as smooth as silk or so it would seem.
Like Wal-Mart stores and many casinos, the State of Mississippi now employs official greeters at the Woolfolk State Office Building on the west side of the Capitol building in Jackson. One of those greeters is 82-year-old former radio and television personality and Jackson restaurateur Jobie Martin.
Unlike Wal-Mart and the casinos, however, Mississippi government isn't turning a profit.
Like most central Mississippians of my generation, I grew up watching Jobie Martin on television. He had a great rhythm-and-blues show and the more outrageous his promotion of his chicken restaurant became, the better I liked it.
Criticize Jobie? Nope
Criticize Jobie Martin for having the drive and the work ethic to get up and go to work each day at the age of 82? Not on your life. He's a nice man and is overqualified if that's possible to represent Mississippi well in his role as a state-employed greeter.
But the harsh reality is that in these austere times, one has to question the decision to squander state funds on what is at best a luxury. Since when does an office building filled with state workers already in the employ of Mississippi taxpayers need another taxpayer-paid employee to greet them?
Contacted by The Clarion-Ledger last week regarding Martin's gig as a greeter, Department of Finance and Administration executive director Gary Anderson declined to make public how much Martin and another Woolfolk Building greeter are being paid. Anderson told the newspaper that the salary was "minimal" and that the agency had hired "a couple" of greeters to allow security officers to patrol the building.
Martin said that DFA staffer Willie Richardson the former Baltimore Colt and unsuccessful 1999 Democratic nominee for central district transportation commissioner helped him get the job.
Buck stops with the guv
Who helped Gary Anderson and Willie Richardson get their jobs with DFA? Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. And that's where the buck stops in terms of whether or not Mississippi government is so flush that we can afford official greeters at a time when the state is facing deficit appropriations, revenue shortfalls and considering the plunder of the tobacco trust fund to fund essential services that should be paid from the general fund.
House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Charlie Capps(D-Cleveland) has wondered aloud how Mississippi is going to meet the absolute commitment made to public school teachers for their scheduled pay raises.
Times are hard in government at all levels federal, state and local. In this recession, tax hikes and service cuts may well both be on the agenda. Unless Musgrove and his appointees at DFA have jobs for every octogenarian in Mississippi with talent, charisma and a strong work ethic like Jobie, it would seem prudent to cut back on the patronage jobs and direct every available cent toward essential services.
The state employees who file past Jobie Martin and other official greeters have a right to question the priorities in a state government that hasn't provided pay raises for career employees in years and continues to operate a punitive state employee health insurance program while employing so-called greeters.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor/Columnist at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and a syndicated Mississippi political columnist. Call him at (601) 961-7084, write P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39206, or e-mail ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.