The scene: As the curtain rises, we see an empty podium, a few paces ahead of the front stoop of the village hall in the remote village of Chelm. The village of Chelm is a small town of a thousand or so, far from any real civilization, but closely situated to the things that really matter to politicians – the newspaper bureau office, the national banks, the lobbyists, the four and five-star restaurants. Eventually, we see the Mayor of Chelm’s press secretary, Benito Bugiardo, come out from the wings to appear behind the podium, as a few reporters walk on stage to take seats in front of him, cheating the angle just a bit, so they don’t have their backs to the audience. The spotlight hits the press secretary, and we begin.
Press Secretary Bugiardo: Good morning, everyone! I know we have a lot to talk about today. We’re beating inflation; job growth is thrilling, and the Mayor is spending his working vacation putting the finishing touches on his next great project, the Comprehensive Crime Bill. On top of all that, it is SUCH a beautiful day! So where shall we begin? Mr. Smith, I think you had your hand up first.
Mr. Smith, of the Chelm Bugle: Mr. Bugiardo, we have heard a rumor that the Mayor plans to hire 87 new tax collectors. Is that true, and if so, why do you need so many?
P.S. Bugiardo: What, don’t you want to talk about jobs? or inflation? or what a great day it is? It really is lovely today, don’t you think? The Mayor was just mentioning in our call this morning, in fact…
Mr. Smith: No, thank you, I need to ask about the rumored increase of 87 more tax collectors. My editor insisted that I begin with that, sir.
P.S. Bugiardo: Oh, well, if you have to, you have to. No offense taken. Isn’t it frustrating how bosses can sometimes have the power to force their employees to do things they don’t want to do? That’s an issue, in fact, that we have been working on in the Mayor’s office, and we are hoping to make headway next year…
Mr. Smith: The 87 tax collectors, sir? What about it? Are the rumors true?
P.S. Bugiardo: Oh, well, you know about rumors. There are ideas being tossed about, sure, the village always needs people, we’re overworked up here, after all…
Mr. Smith: So you DO intend to hire 87 more tax collectors, then?
P.S. Bugiardo: Well, we’ve put the funding request into a budget, yes, but there’s no telling when we’ll get them, who they’ll be, whether they’ll be appropriately diverse… The Mayor would like to remind you all of his commitment to diverse hiring. It’s sometimes hard to get equal parts men and women, black and white, able and disabled, and so forth, in a small town like Chelm, but the Mayor assures you all that he is committed to doing the right thing here as he right-sizes the village government…
Miss Jones, of the Chelm Herald: So you do confirm the intent to hire 87 new tax collectors then?
P.S. Bugiardo: I thought I made that clear. Next question? Shall we talk about the beautiful new floral bouquets on either side of this podium today? I was against spending the money at first, but then when we realized that the vases were really a lifelong investment since they’ll be reused and reused forever, so we’re really only spending new money on the fresh bouquet for every press conference, but these fine 24K gilt-edged vases will be a part of the village government forever… well, when this was made clear to me and we realized what a common sense decision it was, we signed on to it and I am, that is, we are, very happy to be able to greet you men and women of the press this way from now on. I hope that shows how welcoming we are, here at the management offices of the village of Chelm…
Mr. Smith: So how many of you did it take to decide on buying these vases and flowers, sir?
P.S. Bugiardo: Oh, just me. The buck stops here. I don’t need anyone else to share credit or blame…
Mr. Smith: So you thought of the idea, argued with yourself, and decided to go with your plan without input from outside?
P.S. Bugiardo: Well, gee, when you put it like that, it almost sounds dictatorial. That’s not very nice. Remember we made coffee for you all this morning…
Mr. Smith: We paid for that coffee. You just made it because you own the espresso shop next door. Which reminds me, my editor also wanted me to ask about the Mayor’s policy on his appointees retaining their side jobs after joining the administration. Has the Mayor’s legal counsel ever checked the village policies on conflicts of interest?
P.S. Bugiardo: Funny you should mention that, Mr. Smith. Just last week, our legal counsel had some free time between a couple of property tax challenges where he was representing the homeowners in their disputes with the village property assessments when the Mayor called him to talk about reviewing the village’s policy on conflicts of interest and they realized that it would be a conflict of interest for him to have such a discussion at this time, it being tax season and all, so they’ve tabled the discussion…
Mr. Smith: Until when?
P.S. Bugiardo: Until they are out of the office and can therefore deal with the question of conflicts of interest without creating a conflict of interest in the process.
Mr. Smith: But that could be years!
P.S. Bugiardo: I’m no fortune-teller, so I couldn’t say.
Miss Jones: Could we please get back to Mr. Smith’s original question? What does the Mayor’s office want with 87 more tax collectors?
P.S. Bugiardo: I am shocked that you would ask such a question in such an accusatory way. WE don’t want 87 more tax collectors! It’s the furthest thing from our minds. There are lots of other roles we’d rather fill. We’re not asking for this.
Miss Jones: Then who is?
P.S. Bugiardo: The Chelm Tax Department is overwhelmed. They insist that they simply cannot do the people’s work without more help. They analyzed their workload, both current and foreboding, and determined that they need another 87 tax collectors.
Miss Jones: “Foreboding?”
P.S. Bugiardo: Isn’t that the right word? Both current and forward-looking. Forward-thinking. Forward, um, forward collecting.
Miss Jones: Forward taking?
P.S. Bugiardo: Fine, sure. Whatever. Anyway, it’s not us. But the Mayor has been elected to serve the people, and he needs the staff to do that.
Miss Jones: So to serve the people, they need 87 more agents to audit them?
P.S. Bugiardo: Now, now, it’s not like our tax collectors only audit people. They have lots of other duties besides auditing people, you know.
Miss Jones: Like harassing, intimidating, and bullying them?
P.S. Bugiardo: Now that’s not fair. Our village’s tax collectors have genuine, broad duties to the taxpayer.
Mr. Smith: Like providing telephone support to callers with tax filing questions?
P.S. Bugiardo: Right, exactly.
Miss Jones: Even though that phone support line is notorious for giving bad advice and then refusing to accept or share responsibility when the filer makes a mistake based on their advice.
P.S. Bugiardo: Well, they also have to maintain that complex website.
Mr. Smith: Wouldn’t be so complex if the tax code itself weren’t so intentionally complex.
Miss Jones: And the website is usually down, or its do-it-yourself calculating tools are usually down, and when you email them for tech support, they just automatically reply with a canned message saying they don’t expect the online calculator to be functional until after tax season…
P.S. Bugiardo: So you see, that’s why they need more staff!
Miss Jones: But even so, isn’t 87 more tax collectors an awfully high number for a village of only 1000 people?
P.S. Bugiardo: It looks like that, sure, but remember, there are also taxes that have to be filed by the foreign companies on Main Street, and by the nonresidents and migrants who come into town from other communities to work here… that’s a lot of work. It takes time, and staff, and, umm, and training.
Suzie Johnson, of the Chelm High School student newspaper, the Chelm High Times: May I ask a different question?
P.S. Bugiardo: Oh, that would be wonderful, Miss Johnson. What would you like to know?
Suzie Johnson: How come the first posting for the 87 tax collectors mentioned in the job description that all applicants need to be willing to use deadly force, but then the line was quietly deleted from successive postings without explanation?
P.S. Bugiardo: I’m sorry, we’re out of time. There’s a Mayor’s conference being held here in a little while and we have to clear away the podium and all these reporter chairs and things, to make room for, umm, the Mayor’s podium and the, umm, the chairs for his audience… Umm… so… thank you all for coming today, and, umm, we’ll see you tomorrow, darn it. On behalf of the administration of the fair village of Chelm, thank you for your interest.
Copyright 2022 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer, and actor. A one-time county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been writing regularly for Illinois Review since 2009.
For those unfamiliar with the name, the Village of Chelm is an imaginary place in Jewish folklore, often known as “the city of fools” where everyone thinks themselves to be geniuses, but none actually are. We have respectfully borrowed the name for our imagined town, somewhere in the United States, though in this version, there are actually a few sensible people in the town, such as the reporters representing the mainstream media. This is fiction, remember. No actual similarity with any real-life persons or places is intended or implied.
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Funny article John! That’s our federal government run by clowns!
In the Village of Chelm would the Lord High Commander, a gay, black woman pull Protectors of the People Centurians from crime ridden neighborhoods to protect a movie crew and leave the tax paying peons to fend for themselves?
Excellent as always!!
A great window into the world we are currently living in. Comical, sad and scary. Where is that much needed emoticon???