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Nose Under the Community Tent

By Paul Losch

About this blog: I was a "corporate brat" growing up and lived in different parts of the country, ending in Houston, Texas for high school. After attending college at UC Davis, and getting an MBA at Harvard, I embarked on a marketing career, mai...  (More)

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Artwork at a Time of Employee Cutbacks

Uploaded: Oct 28, 2009
As a Parks and Recreation Commissioner, I felt very uncomfortable this past Tuesday night at our monthly regular meeting.

It was the day after City Council had approved a $270,000 expenditure for a major work of art that will be part of the new Mitchell Park Library and Community center.

It also was the day after that the City Council established an adjusted compensation program for SEIU employees, in order to save going forward roughly $2.5 million a year compared with current benefits and retirement programs.

There is an understandable concern about how these two things juxtapose. We can pay an artist a quarter of a million dollars while reducing what the City pays many of its employees?

The appearances are not good, are they?

My professional experience dealing with government funding of certain programs and my time as a volunteer publc official here in Palo Alto on the Parks and Recreation Commission has taught me about "the color of money." I really find the whole thing quite distasteful, and extremely convoluted. And it leads to the sort of things that happened at last Monday's City Council meeting.

Here is my understanding--part of the bond measure to improve the libraries that was passed about this time a year ago included an allocation of 1% that would go toward art around the new complex. This is part of that program, and if the art contract were entirely cancelled, those funds would not be available to deal with the operating costs of compensating employees and funding their benefits. Different buckets of money.

Capital programs and operating budgets should be handled differently and separately.

And I actually was very impressed with what I learned about this art project at the Parks Commission meeting, albeit I am not an expert on public art.

All that said, I go back to "apperances." City Council cuts employee comp programs the same night we commission a major, world-reknowned artist to do a huge project. I can parse this out, given what I have learned in my Parks Commission duties, but I certainly can understand why there is a perception by members of this community that this is an example of a "disconnect."
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Posted by pat, a resident of ,
on Oct 29, 2009 at 10:01 am

Paul, There is already an active discussion on this topic, to which you posted, at Web Link

Re ?Different buckets of money,? please see Doug Moran?s comments at the above link.

Also, one should not have to be ?an expert on public art,? to appreciate and enjoy the art. If it?s for the public, it should be something the public likes.

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of ,
on Oct 29, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Well this is a bit like how Dr. Pino must have felt. She saved a major insurance company a ton of money by denying a patient a procedure which would have save his life. Then they commissioned a piece of art for exactly the same amount.

But then she had a conscience and repented.

Posted by Mike, a resident of ,
on Oct 29, 2009 at 9:30 pm

This kind of thinking taken to its logical end would be the equivalent of 'so long as there is a single child starving somewhere in the world no one should feel comfortable spending anything for entertainment, luxuries or for that matter anything beyond the very basic necessities of life.'

Hard to deny the truth of this thinking but it's not practiced by many except the Mother Teresas of this world. Even here in liberal Palo Alto.

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of ,
on Oct 30, 2009 at 8:37 pm

And then taking your thinking to it's logical end no one should then be concerned with even an iota of any concept of social justice or democracy, or fair play, or Magna Carta, ...

Any deviation from "The Divine Right of Kings" would just lead down to a path whereby humanity itself would one day be reconstituted by some ordinance whereby the genes of Mothe Teresa and Che Guevara would be forever co-joined as the new genetic foundation of humanity.

But the juxtaposition of the statue and the treatment of the city workers will be gist for nation wide publicity when the time is ripe.

Enjoy the what ye have sowed!

Posted by paloaltomarino, a resident of ,
on Nov 1, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Perception is reality, right?

And you talk about our "timing" at city hall. Now, that's funny. I remember a day, 11/4/08, when the the country was electing our first black president, I also remember late in the afternoon receiving two e-mails, one from the former police chief apologizing for her remarks about race, and one from our city manager saying that Palo Alto doesn't support racial profiling".

And now, we're trying to roll out a business license tax after talking about it for 30 years, at the exact wrong time. The economy is in the worst shape it's been at in my lifetime, everyone is hurting, fearful of losing their job, but, the city manager keeps pushing the business license tax. Meanwhile, he continues to rake in a $200K+ salary, huge housing allowance, and car. I wonder, since most business owners don't live here, if we care less about them therefore we end up approving the tax. If I were a betting man, I'd say Palo Altans will approve the tax because we like our standard of living more than we like what's a good thing to do.

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of ,
on Nov 3, 2009 at 8:42 am

Well when the economy was in better shape the taxes (in general) should have been raised a bit more then---when more "affordable" and build a buffer. Then, during a recessionary period, consider both cutting back on taxes AND spending the money on needed infrastructure. This which would help stimulate the economy. But the foxes were guarding the henhouse and now we have the worst of both worlds. Everyone is scrambling and jacking things up or down to cover the contingencies while squeezing out what they can.

Posted by Merrill Linmon Roe, a resident of ,
on Nov 3, 2009 at 9:33 am

City of Auburn Hills on the brink of bankruptcy due to unrealistic pension obligations

Web Link

Posted by lazlo, a resident of ,
on Nov 3, 2009 at 4:42 pm

To the post by Roe: I guess if we were to believe everything that is posted on BLOGPROF (your web link) without actually knowing specifics of the case of the City of Auborn Hills we would prove our ignorance. The facts are city council members spent their taxpayer funds on foolish projects with no regard of value to the community, made bad investments with taxpayer funds, and spent employee compensation funds on bad stock investments. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Anna, a resident of ,
on Nov 3, 2009 at 5:27 pm

To lazlo:
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

If you'd actually read the BLOGPROF post, you'd have seen that it was commenting on a newspaper article from a local newspaper in the county that includes Auburn Hills. Here's the original: Web Link

It's not employee bashing to take notice of the mathematical fact that many government pensions, including Palo Alto's, cannot possibly be sustained under any reasonable assumptions about the economy and tax collections. Say all you want about bad investments and wasteful foolish projects: whether that is true or not, you can't get blood out of a turnip.

The sooner that SEIU leaders wise-up and face facts, the better off their members and the cities they work for will be.

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