Press Talk: What stinks up in here?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



Have an opinion on the superintendent's shower? Tell us.

Have an opinion on the superintendent’s shower? Tell us.

Who’s stinkin’ up the joint again? Must be yet another governmental bigwig.

And this time there’s an admission of guilt. Honest, they’re ‘fessing up!

Well OK, it’s not stink as in silly shenanigans. It’s the real stink thing. You know what I’m talking about. Governmental officials who suddenly believe they have to smell like a rose.

The latest Mr. Clean controversy? It has to do with a $4,000 shower installed for Vancouver schools Superintendent Steven Webb.

Look, Webb is a great guy. I know him and respect him. And in my view he has done outstanding things for kids around here. Our daughter Danni graduated from the school district and now is in law school at the University of Georgia. Vancouver Public Schools did her well.

Still I wonder why so many government officials appear to be living in some sort of Twilight Zone where there is no appreciation for how their actions will be perceived. Really, they don’t get it.

I understand that $4,000 is chump change compared with the school district’s budget. But money isn’t the issue here. What signal does it send to the public? To teachers? To parents?

So how does the school administration defend it?

Well, Webb is a very hard worker and sometimes he gets a little, ah, smelly during his work day. Without this new office shower he might have to run home to freshen up, especially if he has some sort of night meeting.

And, if he runs home for that shower … well, the public would have to pay his mileage and that all adds up!

So there!

Come on, guys. That doesn’t pass the smell test. You can do better than that.

Try this: Bring a washcloth, a bar of soap and a little deodorant. Wash those underarms, hit it with some minty stuff and … presto! Good to go.

Of course, Webb isn’t the only one out there with sweat equity.

One of my favorite politicians, state Sen. Ann Rivers, had her own issues. She ended up at the top of an Associated Press list of those who charge taxpayers for her dry cleaning. (She has since stopped taking this reimbursement.)

It was all perfectly legal. But like the Webb shower, she wasn’t getting how it looked to the public.

When asked what the heck she was doing back then, this was her answer:

“We’re expected to wear a suit every day. After a while the dry cleaning piles up. You should look nice and you should smell nice … doing the work of the people.”


Here’s the thing. No one is arguing that Webb and Rivers shouldn’t smell pretty when doing the people’s work. But make yourself smell all nice on your own dime.

Look, we know there are more than a few government types out there who can take five showers a day and still stink up the joint. But that’s another kind of stink.

You’d think folks would eventually get their heads screwed on straight and eliminate all the kinds of stink in government.

If only they’d follow my sage advice:

Don’t do stupid stuff.

Hey, there are a bunch of high-priced PR flacks all over the government payrolls. Maybe they could advise them? Nah. We know more than they do. Looks like you’re on your own. But we do need to clean this thing up. Otherwise things will get pretty funky around here.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, or