Ill-timed mansion spending

Nov. 05, 2013 @ 07:02 PM

We’ve refrained from saying much about renovations and repairs at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh. In some ways, it seems like obsessing on the small stuff when there are significant areas of public policy to debate.

With your home owned by the taxpayers, as is true for our governor – and most governors -- means you live figuratively in a glass house.  Any expenditure is likely to be pounced upon as unreasonable.

But the governor’s mansion is an historic building, with the need for maintenance and updating from time to time that comes with honoring our wonderful old structures by using rather than abandoning them.

We’ll give them the likelihood that some updating and repairs to the bathrooms may be in order. Again, anyone with an older house can sympathize with the headaches of dealing with pesky plumbing.

But the fire pits seemed to signal it’s time to arch our eyebrows.

“Public records show about $43,000 in taxpayer money was spent this year to convert the mansion’s fireplaces to use gas logs and add an outdoor fire pit,” the Associated Press’s Michael Biesecker reported this week. “A second fire pit valued at $500 was provided by a private donor.”

Fire pits seem a bit of a luxury, trendy though they may be. But the governor’s office painted them as practically a necessity.

“In addition to being a home, the governor’s residence is also a place where the governor conducts the people’s business, and holds business meetings there,” state Department of Administration spokesman Chris Mears told Biesecker. “The fire pits are fixtures that make the residence grounds usable during cold months.”

Come on. Can’t they meet inside when it’s cold outdoors?

That explanation comes on the heels of an allocation, eventually nixed by the governor, of $230,000 to remodel six bathrooms with, among other things, new marble. Not to mention, following reports of $80,000-plus salaries to young staffers with little experience beyond their work in the governor’s successful campaign.

All this points to what seems to be a puzzling lack of political acuity on the part of an administration we would expect to be more attuned to the optics of its operations.

Outdoor confabs in mid-winter around the fire pit might be routine in the governor’s circles, but we doubt that the idea resonates with unemployed textile workers in the Piedmont or the suburban family postponing a vacation until times are better.

With belt-tightening the mantra of Gov. Pat McCrory and the General Assembly this last session, with teachers and other state workers facing stagnant salaries, with unemployment still at painfully high levels, it is the wrong time to upgrade bathrooms   and warm up the backyard.

If the administration’s policies aimed at boosting the state’s economy succeed – and while we are dubious about some, we certainly hope they do – then, perhaps, will be time for fire pits and gas fireplaces.