UPDATE: I spoke with the Navy's curator of ship models about this. Some interesting stuff, but I'm going to do a piece for the regular paper. It should run this weekend.
CORRECTION: Apparently the truck rental was about $60, not about $600 as the mayor's office said initially. So I've changed the numbers to reflect that. By the way, these are the folks working with the City Council, as I type this, on the mayor's proposed $126 million budget. At least, I think it's $126 million. Better check and make sure it's not really $12.60...
Last week I noticed a large model of the U.S.S. Macon, a retired Navy cruiser named for the city, in the lobby at City Hall. Turns out Mayor Robert Reichert remembered seeing the ship at City Hall when he was a kid, and he had it moved back to city hall from the Wilson Convention Center just across the river.
The ship is impressive. It dominates the lobby. And I thought this was a neat story, until I found out how much the move cost: $10,803.84
Now, the ship is no toy. The case is about 15 feet long and the actual U.S.S. Macon was built based on this model, which is owned by the United States Navy. Laminated glass is used on the top of the display case so that, if it breaks, the glass won't damage the model. This glass was cracked before Navy curators showed up for the move, and it cost the city $3,841.50 to replace it, according to the mayor's office.
The Navy spent about $60 of the city's money to rent a truck, some blankets and some rope. Presumably all of the city's trucks were busy last week, cleaning up from the tornado that destroyed dozens of Macon homes and damaged hundreds of others a week ago Sunday. And I guess the city of Macon, Georgia, doesn't own any rope.
The Navy also charged the city $6,900 to move the ship slightly more than 1.1 miles from the convention center to City Hall. That works out to $632.94 per tenth of a mile.
As my favorite ESPN radio host says, let's say this out loud and see if it sounds like a good idea: Let's spend $10,800 to move a model ship and replace the glass in its display case during the middle of a massive tornado cleanup effort.
Mayor Reichert said he wasn't happy with the high cost, but the Navy required that two curators fly in from Maryland there to supervise the move and put the display back together. City workers did most of the actual moving.
He said it was unfortunate that the move, scheduled in advance, fell on the same week that much of the city was dealing with storm damage. Then he spoke of city pride and said the ship was a one-of-a-kind irreplaceable treasure. He called it's prominence at City Hall a tribute to the Greatest Generation. (It was actually commissioned about the same time World War II ended, but I didn't stop him - he was on a roll).
Then he launched into a discussion of what a city should be, and the contribution beautiful architecture makes in a community.
"What's it worth to generate good will and a little pride? ..." the mayor asked. "I wish it had cost less. I think it's an investment in this community that will pay dividends that will far exceed its cost."
Maybe. It is impressive. So is a stack of 1,000 $10 bills. Or nearly 40 percent of the median annual household income in Macon.
By the way, the ship was moved before the City Council signed off on a budget change to cover the costs - which didn't make the council happy. It was one of the things they complained the most about with former Mayor Jack Ellis.
I'll call the Navy tomorrow morning. I'm interested to see just what $6,900 worth of curating gets you these days.