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By Paul Losch

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."