Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Of Double Standards, Billionaires, and Pencil Boxes

An incredibly smart and sweet girl I've had the pleasure of teaching for two of her three years at my school just recently graduated as valedictorian. She is headed to Stuyvesant. Just yesterday, she handed me a card in which she thanked me profusely for helping her become a better writer and for being a good English teacher. These are the kinds of things teachers live for.

Along with the card came a present--a nice pencil box inscribed with a quote by Hemingway. It will look great on my desk, assuming I decide to keep it.

You see, there are rules in this city for employees. I'm not supposed to accept any gift over a certain amount, but the actual amount for teachers is vague. Under Klein, the amount was $5 per student. Here's what I found when I searched it:

A gift can only be accepted from an individual if the gift is of primarily sentimental value. This means that it should not be very expensive. Cheap scarves, homemade crafts, cards, baked goods, and the like are probably OK.

This gift was clearly primarily of sentimental value. But I don't know its dollar value, and it could well be over $5, although it certainly can't be much more than that. So which rule prevails--sentimentality or dollar value? Am I supposed to return it? Ask for a receipt verifying the price? Ask the girl if she was feeling sentimental when she handed it to me?

I wouldn't even bring this up if not for two articles that caught my eye today. The first involved two sanitation workers who were fined $2,000 each for accepting a $5 tip for hauling away a lot of trash.  This is in violation of the rules of the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which handed down the fines. If they got fined 2 grand for five dollar tip, what might happen to me if the COIB discovers I accepted a $10 pencil box? Fine me $4000? Have me keel hauled? What if it's worth more? Will they have my eyes pecked out by birds?

Of course, these rules only apply if you are a city worker. If you are the mayor, you are exempt. For example, if you're Bloomberg, and you have a pet project such as changing gun control laws, it is perfectly OK for you to take the tax money of NYC residents and lobby for changes to gun laws in Nevada. Yes, this is the same mayor who has an estimated worth of $27 billion but feels its much better to spend YOUR hard earned money on his pet projects than to use his own massive wealth. This is also the same mayor who has claimed time and again that there is no money for raises for teachers, apparently because the money is earmarked for political plunder.

The mayor's goon spokesperson claimed that this was all fair and aboveboard, because "seeking sane gun laws in other states . . . help(s) reduce the flow of illegal guns to New York", thus keeping everyone safe. As you are doubtless aware, many mobsters routinely go to Nevada for guns, because it is much closer than, let's say, the south.

On the other hand, if I accept this pencil box and its value exceeds $5 or the equivalent sentimental units, it will mean the end of civilization as we know it. Violence will rule the streets and anarchy will prevail. If teachers start accepting $10 Dunkin' Donuts gift cards, the next thing you know they'll be headed off to Nevada to purchase illegal guns. We have to have rules.

Unless you're the mayor. Or a billionaire. Or especially if you're both.

But it's nearly the end of school, and I refuse to insult this nice young lady by returning her gift. If you want my pencil box, Mr. Mayor, all I can do is borrow a quote from all those really dangerous Nevada to NY gun runners:

"You can have my pencil box when you pry it from my cold dead fingers."

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