Politicians make their names with the glamour of the stump, with the sweeping promises of campaign season.
They make their bones in the forge of a crisis.
They take the credit for efficiencies and well-run programs, and the heat when things go awry.
But the real nuts-and-bolts of governance is in budget season, dizzying weeks of numbers, the cold calculus of revenue in the door and expenses out the window.
Politics are all about who gets what. And politicians want more for their interests, but that necessarily means someone else gets less.
And while they take the plaudits — or the blame, depending on the final scorecard of the ledger — the reality is that while the final decisions are left to the politicians, the initial determinations are made by technocrats.
There’s a tension between the what-we-can-do world of the accountants and the what-we-want world of the politicians, and it played out at last Wednesday’s budget hearing for the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department.
With the metropolitan system of government, the state-mandated sheriff is left with few law enforcement duties; thus the police department gets the bigger piece of the pie — and the sexier bits, like a new crime lab.
The shrewd and politically gifted Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, though, is still going to fight for his slice.
Faced with the fifth straight reduction in his budget — this year, he’s slated to take a $200,000 cut from his $75 million portion — he took umbrage at the process by which Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling divvied the tax dollars, asking department heads to submit a budget with 2 percent cuts.
Hall categorized the cuts as “dangerous” and insisted he never proposed a budget with any increases, setting off a feisty exchange with Riebeling.
“If he didn’t submit any request for improvements, then his is the only department in the government that didn’t submit requests for improvements,” Riebeling said, adding that he only heard a few days ago that Hall had issues with the budget.
“I don’t know where you heard it,” Hall said. “I wasn’t in town.”
“Did I say something that was wrong?” Riebeling asked.
“Yes, several things,” Hall retorted.
Meanwhile, Hall was lining up allies on the Metro Council before this week's final budget vote. He’s a politician courting other politicians, the accountants be damned.