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They talk the talk but can they walk the walk?
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Talk isn’t cheap.
The Manteca City Council tonight is considering spending $49,920 in a bid to get people to communicate.
It includes $40,420 in redevelopment agency funds to hire a consultant to get downtown Manteca landlords and business owners to talk to each other to see if they can work together. The other is to spend $9,500 in general fund money to get the City Council to talk to each other about setting goals on what is best for Manteca.
The decision to spend $49,920 on communication comes as city management and municipal union representatives are talking about furloughs and other staffing cutbacks.
You don’t need to have a crystal ball to predict municipal workers will take a dim view of spending $49,920 to hire consultants to “facilitate” talk when in all likelihood they are going to be asked to eat — at the very least — a couple days of work and pay each month in a bid to address the projected $8 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1.
The Big Three automakers found out the hard way the importance of symbolism. When they flew into Washington, D.C., for their first pitch in front of Congress for bailout help, they drew the wrath of everyone from senators to Joe the Plumber. I didn’t matter — as some defenders pointed out — that they were probably working while aboard corporate jets. It looked like they were asking for billions in taxpayer handouts while burning through $20,000 plus apiece flying corporate jets when they could have gone commercial for a whole lot less.
Before people start manning the barricades, the $40,420 to hire Kristin Lowell to meet with various key downtown business people and landlords to see if there is a consensus for forming a downtown improvement district deserves a green light.
First, it will use redevelopment agency money that can’t be used to cover the paycheck and benefits of city employees.
There is an extensive history in Manteca of bickering downtown and people undercutting positions taken by the majority when it comes to downtown decisions. More than once municipal staff has worked closely with downtown factions to come up with an idea. The idea was then prepared for advancement to the council only to have a group of downtown interests torpedo it when it actually got before the council.
The proposal in front of the council would put the nemesis on the back of downtown. They essentially control their own future with the idea of speaking with one voice — devoid of city input except as a property owner — when advancing a proposal before the City Council.
The downside to this exercise, of course, is that if the consultant concludes there is no way they can work together or that there is no support for a downtown improvement district, city leaders will most assuredly make the central district a lower priority. One can only get bitten so many times while trying to help someone.
Not spending the money for the consultant would be an empty gesture when it comes to symbolism. Downtown is in a stall when it comes to a comprehensive plan.
The City Council should spend the $40,420 with a stern warning that this is the end of the line. Either downtown gets its act together and works as one voice, or they can fend for themselves.
The $9,500 for the ex-Napa State mental health director to work with the City Council and staff in goal setting is another issue.
Yes, such “retreats” can be effective but there’s a problem here. It will use $9,500 in general fund money.
What’s $9,500, you ask? If city employees eventually have to take non-paid furloughs, the $9,500 is the equivalent of 633 worker hours at $15 for pay and benefits. Not hiring the ex-Napa State guy saves $9,500 in unrestricted general fund money and therefore would be a gesture that is more than symbolic. It saves cold hard cash toward offsetting a potential $8 million deficit in next fiscal year’s municipal budget.
If the council is serious about the pending deficit, they need to walk the walk.
But what about the good stuff that could come out of such a “retreat?”
Here’s an idea. A number of non-profits in town have conducted similar retreats including the Convention & Visitor Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Boys & Girls Club. Why not tap some of their leadership with experience in running such retreats and see if they will put together a team to help the city with the one they want to conduct?
The city has a rich history of doing what it can to help the non-profits through hotel room tax and passing through Community Development Block Grant funds. Maybe it is time to return the favor.