Last Friday, I slogged about a glossy 4-page brochure that the city produced to promote Mayor Nickels’s transportation levy: a $1.8 billion plan to fix up our basic transportation infrastructure (to be funded by a $195 on average property tax, a 10 percent tax on commercial parking, and a $25 per employee tax on businesses.)
My problem with the brochure was that it looked like a campaign piece. (It’s not kosher to campaign for or against ballot issues with public money from public offices.)
The brochure, about 2200 of them, cost $3,400.
And the mayor’s office told me I was being “ridiculous” for questioning the mayor on this. They told me the mayor has every right to tell the public how he wants to spend the public’s money. Nickels spokesman Marty McOmber told me: “The purpose [of the brochure] is to present the mayor’s views to the public on how the money should be spent. It’s responsible for him to put his views in front of the public.”
Right. But the $1.8 billion isn’t the city’s money to spend yet. That’s the whole point. First, Nickels needs to convince voters to give $1.8 billion over to the city. And that’s exactly what he’s doing with these flashy brochures. That’s called campaigning. And that’s why I’ve got a problem with it.
McOmber boasted that the mayor “isn’t shy about setting a sweeping agenda and letting voters know about it.” Okay. Unfortunately: It’d be one thing if the mayor was simply telling us what he wanted to do with money he’s got. (That, in fact, would be cool.) It’s another thing—and not cool— when, really, what he’s telling us he wants…is our vote. In short, the mayor isn’t telling us how he wants to spend the city’s money—he’s trying to convince the public to give him more money…and with neat-o “before & after” pictures to boot.
Unfortunately, the ethics office seconded the mayor’s office on this. They told me: “The mayor is allowed to tell the public how he wants to spend its money.”
Right, but…oh, never mind.