(January 8, 2007) -- We are sorry that Mayor Bob Foster is poised to degrade his first "State of City" message -- an upcoming City Charter public duty -- in basically the same way as his predecessor annually did and we annually criticized.
Those who applauded her actions will find nothing wrong with his; for our part, we remain consistent in our criticism...and we urge Mayor Foster to take some costless measures to restore respect to the process on Tuesday and not a year from now.
The President delivers his State of the Union message to lawmakers in the U.S. Congress. The Governor presents his State of the State message to lawmakers in the State Capitol. LB's Mayor should address LB lawmakers -- the City Council -- in the people's City Council Chamber, not at some elitist pay-to-attend LB Chamber of Commerce fundraiser.
The following text from the Chamber's website a few days ago shows exactly how it regards this LB public duty:
Registration Deadline is January 2, 2007. Will sell out- make reservations asap! Parking entrance located on Pine Avenue. Please provide the names of the ten people who will be seated at your table in the comments box on the online registration sheet....
Please enter in the quantity below and then select "Continue Registration."
Mayor's Circle Table for 10 people $1750.00
Chair's Circle Table for 10 people $1250.00
Non Profit Table for 10 People $650.00
Individual Seat $50.00
Egad. In our view, it sends the wrong message for the Mayor of CA's fifth largest city to let a private entity, one non-profit among many in this city, turn a public event into a private fundraiser, amplified by televised repetition on City Hall's cable channel, elevating special interests at corporate tables as supposedly representative of the public's interests.
The LB Area Chamber of Commerce, through what we're told is a separately funded political/advocacy apparatus, has worked to overturn part of LB's voter-approved campaign contribution ordinance, inviting special interests to tilt the outcomes of LB elections. It urged defeat of clean-air port-related legislation that the City Council endorsed and Port-related interests wanted killed. The Chamber's leadership has pursued needlessly divisive, polarizing positions on the Airport, Port, land use and "big box" operations.
The privately-run Chamber has the right to do every one these things...but it has no entitlement to the services of LB's top elected official as a fundraiser or to any other taxpayer supported benefits from City Hall.
Exactly what entitles the Chamber to the Mayor's fundraising services...as opposed to other non-profits like, say, the Sierra Club? Or LBHUSH2?
Here's how we believe Mayor Foster and other city officials can and should deal with this right now:
- 1. To honor his word to the Chamber, the Mayor ought to give his speech at their luncheon this year....but he should also present it later that day in a full, respectful manner befitting its significance during the evening's City Council meeting. This would treat Councilmembers and those they represent with respect (without shortchanging those who paid to attend the Chamber event). It would cost nothing...and it would save public money (noted in #3 below).
- 2. Councilmembers should inform the Mayor's office -- before Tuesday's event -- that they don't plan to personally attend the Chamber luncheon but look forward to hearing the Mayor's words delivered in full in the Council Chamber later that night. Those who've paid public money to buy multiple seats (like a table) at the Chamber event should advise organizers that they want the lunches boxed and ready for pick up so they can be delivered to a local food bank or other worthy charity.
- 3. The Mayor and/or City Manager should immediately direct the City's Video Communications Department not to spend one dime of public money sending cameras, crews and remote equipment to capture the private Chamber event. The Mayor's address in the Council Chamber, which can be recorded for free, will suffice. In our view, it is wrong to use the City's video facilities to package and telecast what amounts to free promotion for the Chamber and its favored interests.
- 4. City Auditor Laura Doud should advise the Mayor and Council -- which she has every right to do since she's independently elected -- that her office will not approve the expenditure of any future city resources on that private Chamber fundraiser or others.
The LB City Charter currently provides, "On or before the 15th day of January of each year, the Mayor shall
communicate by message to the City Council a statement of the conditions and affairs of the City, and make recommendations on such matters as the Mayor may deem expedient and proper."
No self-respecting Councilmember should spend money to hear at a private event something that is a public duty. Mayor O'Neill apparently didn't think her "State of the City" messages merited the Council's or public's time (and most of the time she was right).
We have more respect for Mayor Foster's words...which we believe do deserve the public's time in a public venue. The Chamber of Commerce's leaders should be the ones coming to the City Council Chamber to hear the city's Mayor, not vice versa.