A technicality has disqualified the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of East Tennessee from being considered for county financial support this year, according to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.
“There are no exceptions,” Burchett told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The Beck Center reportedly was just 11 minutes late in submitting its paperwork for funding help. Big Brothers and Big Sisters turned in the application to the county clerk’s office when it should have dropped off its proposal with the county purchasing department as well.
Is it fair to deny these two organizations their shot at county funding? After all, the timing mistakes were minor—and both organizations have done good work and helped countless people for many years in East Tennessee.
In fact, when I served in city and state government I saw up-close that life in our cities and counties would be miserable without the work of non-profit organizations. Government would have to expand exponentially (requiring tax increases) to absorb some of the duties non-profits fulfill.
In these cases, the sin was missing a deadline. Why not bend the rules, offer a short grace period, and keep open the funding possibility door?
The United States Army taught me the answer.
I joined the army at age 19, enlisting to avoid the draft (my selective service lottery number was 22 in my birth year). Prior to enlistment, my attitude on authority was that it should usually be ignored. The drill sergeants of the 4th platoon, Bravo Company, 4thth battalion, 1st Basic Combat Training Brigade of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, felt differently. They insisted that trainees follow orders. They indicated it would be helpful if I accepted this viewpoint.
Drill sergeant-devised reminders of this included an extraordinary number of push-ups and being called things many of us had previously not known existed. On top of that, make a mistake and drill sergeants would point out that our heads were up in places anatomically impossible for them to reach.
About midway through basic training we were permitted a weekend-off pass, which by that point was essentially the equivalent of dying and going to heaven. I bought a bus ticket on Continental Trailways to make the several-hour trip to Myrtle Beach to visit someone I’d known in my hometown of Merritt Island, Florida.
We could leave Friday evening. Our orders were to be back at midnight Sunday. I booked my ticket to ensure that not only would I be back in time, but I’d coast in well in advance of witching hour.
At this point you can probably guess what happened.
On our way back Sunday we stopped at the bus station in Florence, South Carolina. A short stop to pick up passengers turned into a longer stop. The bus had mechanical problems.
One hour became two. Two turned into three—and more. I kept walking outside to look at the crippled bus putting me minute-by-minute in greater peril. It didn’t help. Of course, it was the only Trailways bus that day going where I needed to go.
It was clear Private Korda wasn’t going to make it on time. I got notes of explanation from the station manager and bus driver. I asked some of my fellow passengers to sign statements saying what had happened. I put phone numbers on each of the documents.
At about 2 a.m., I walked up the steps and opened the door to the orderly room. On duty was Drill Sergeant Hudnell. He looked… unhappy, but strangely pleased at the same time.
“You’re late,” he said. In front of him was a tablet of paper headlined “%@&# List” (although it didn’t say %@&#, exactly).
I went through the whole story, handing him the notes from the station manager, bus driver, and fellow passengers.
“This is very thorough,” said Drill Sergeant Hudnell. Then he wrote my name on the list. Now I understood his earlier pleased look.
“But drill sergeant, I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t my fault.”
Without expression or emotion, he said, “You were told to be here at midnight.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of my barracks.
I knew what he was telling me without him having to tell me. I should have figured out a way to be on time. I should have checked other bus lines. I could have hitchhiked. I could have paid someone to drive me. In other words: no excuses.
Non-profit organizations are valuable. Nevertheless, it isn’t Tim Burchett’s responsibility to make sure their funding applications are turned in on time when they’re coming to ask for money from taxpayers. It’s their responsibility to get it right. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, 69 other applicants provided applications correctly.
Next year, both the Beck Center and Big Brothers and Big Sisters will probably have their funding applications in the right place, at the proper time. You only have to go on the %@&# list once to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Trust me on this one.