If you were running the city and had $500,000 or so jangling around in your pocket, courtesy of city taxpayers, would you fill a bunch of potholes around town or spend $500,000 sprucing up City Hall — including spending "tens of thousands of dollars" on a 103-inch Panasonic plasma HD television that retails for $69,995?

Do I need to tell you what the council members did? Dave Levinthal does on the DMN website, where he details some interesting expenditures downtown that not only the powers that be aren’t apologizing for, they actually seem kind of proud of their decision.

In the story, Levinthal gently questions whether — given the city’s oft-stated comment that money is too tight to give employees much of a raise, not to mention all of the basic city functions that aren’t being done — maybe $500,000 to spruce up City Hall or lots and lots of money on a bit TV isn’t a little questionable. But city manager Mary Suhm was having none of that, explaining to Levinthal: "When people come into City Hall, we want it to look and feel welcoming."

And then councilman Ron Natinsky, who always seems to be the go-to guy downtown for a quote that’s kind of hard to swallow, had this to say: " ‘We have to be able to market ourselves and treat people the way they expected to be treated, especially when they’re traveling from overseas,’ explained Mr. Natinsky, who began advocating for the television monitor after seeing similar displays in government buildings and business headquarters in China. ‘If you want to be a world-class city, we have to act like a world-class city.’ "

Natinsky, whom I’ve never met and could be a perfectly reasonable guy for all I know, apparently also learned while in China that giving away trinkets to constituents/voters — at city expense — is a pretty good idea, too. Levinthal says that Natinsky spent "thousands of dollars" on pizza cutters, tape measures, letter openers, dish scrubbers and candy dispensers ($2,838.50 to buy 1,000 dispensers shaped like City of Dallas recycling bins).

You know, none of this stuff is really all that earth-shaking, in the scheme of things. Cities have lots of money, and who can argue with making City Hall "inviting to visitors"? It’s just that in a time when all of us are having to tighten our budgets, why don’t the people downtown use their heads a little bit and rein in the questionable expenditures a little bit. I mean, wouldn’t a couple of 60-inch LCD HDTVs, which probably could have been had for $3,000 or so each, been a little better deal and still accomplished the same purpose?

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.