Wearing the horns

Me and Arthur are watching “A-Team,” resting up after a long day. When I get done with work, I’d really like to screw off the top of my head, pull out my brain, and put it in a jar of Kool Aid, but tv is good.

I rarely go anywhere at night, my husband and I might pick up some take-out food once in a while, but we generally stay close to home after dark. Biscuit has us on a regular schedule with her shots, and we’re usually tired enough to be swept into a pan and tossed into the stove by that time anyway.

I used to go to a lot of meetings, you know me. I used to hit a city council meeting once in a while, Democracy in Action and all that. But I learned, the real meetings were during the day, where they did the real business and made the recommendations that were rubber-stamped by full council at the night meetings on tv. That’s where you find out who has influence around here, and you hear the staff reports – very incriminating.  I like the morning meetings because they are oftentimes over by 9am, and there’s the rest of the day to be  productive, but I think I was the only one.  Tami Ritter changed the meeting start time to 9am, and it’s like the dentist’s office – after 9am, everything starts moving slower, everything takes longer, and the next thing you know, it’s 11:45 and you’re still  waiting to hear your topic.

Some meetings are held in the afternoon – those don’t start til 3:30 usually. Those are good meetings to attend, but onerous. Everybody’s tired, things linger, the next thing you know, it’s a quarter to Dinnertime.

Chico Recreation District has their board meetings at 7pm, and those are usually well-run, over by 8. They used to hold them at the CARD center, over on Vallombrosa, which is an easy bike ride from my house.  But CARD bought the elegant Lakeside Pavilion out at California Park a few years back, for some whopping million dollars, and last year they decided to move operations – including public meetings – out to the Pavilion. California Park is on the easternmost end of town, beyond the sidewalks and bike paths, in the outermost reaches of CARD’s district. When I asked CARD director Ann “Mrs. Potato” Willmann why the meetings were moved to the Pavilion she answered in her simple potato way, “the board decided to have them there…”  Uh-huh, and that’s a reason? I’ve learned not to push Willmann, because she just stops answering when you ask the wrong question.

Which apparently I did recently, when I asked her how much a new non-profit group seeking to build a “megacility” within CARD’s district had paid to use the Pavilion for a private presentation.

I’d been forwarded an invitation by a city councilor who knew I’d been following CARD’s efforts to place a bond on our homes to fund a new aquatic  facility.

Aquatic center proponents form non-profit, hire consultant, plan “Megacility”

I didn’t realize, it was a private presentation, so I prepared a quick dinner for my husband and myself, gave my dog her dinner and watched my husband give her dinnertime shot of insulin, and I jumped in my car to head for California Park. I don’t know that part of town, I tried to give myself plenty of time, but of course I got lost out there in the winding maze of “No Trespassing” signs. By the time I got to the Pavilion I was pretty frustrated and nervous.  The parking lot was pretty packed. I wandered toward the front entrance with my notebook, staring at a catering truck parked outside the front.

When I got to the door there was a table inside where a woman was asking for names and handing out pre-made name tags. I was alarmed. I’m not a crowd person, especially in a pile of strangers, and I was starting to panic. There were dinner tables set up. I wondered if I would be let in or not.

Suddenly a friendly face appeared as I stood there like a fish out of water – our city manager, Mark Orme.  He looked at me with a big smile  and asked me how I was doing – “Great!” I answered, and smiled myself away. Orme always seems charming and polite, but I don’t like trying to have superficial conversations in a loud room, and I’m sure he would have been uncomfortable if I walked up and demanded to know what he was doing there. I made a note to e-mail him the next morning and ask him if he was there representing the city.

CARD board member Bob Malowney was standing at center of a group of at least 50 or 60 people, acting like a jovial host. Suddenly I noticed a man standing in front of the door, as if greeting people.  It was Greg “Dutch” Van Dusen, of “Everybodyhealthybody.com”,  a “non-profit” group specializing in “collaboration and partnerships for athletics facilities and programming.”

I met Van Dusen about 35 years ago.  He was managing Hughes Stadium – Home of the Sacramento Solons – at Sacramento City College. I was the first girl sports editor of the campus newspaper, then known as The Pony Express. My friend and classmate Ed Gardner introduced us, very excited about all the rock and roll shows Van Dusen  was planning for the stadium. At that time we all considered Dutch to be a real rebel – bringing rock stars like Sammy Hagar, Heart – even a MUSE show – to the stadium, which had primarily been used for sports up until then.

For years Van Dusen and a group of friends, including my old journalism advisor Tom McClellan, had been lobbying to get a professional basketball team in Sacramento. They wanted a real stadium, etc. At that time I never would have believed it would happen, but they did. Van Duesen was the first manager of Arco Arena, and managed it even after the Kings left for their next stadium, bringing big music acts.

So now he has this consulting firm that helps organizations like Aquajets bulldozer “megacilities” into their little towns. Hmmm. Some people are just never satisfied.

I looked around the room – not a friend among the crowd. I realized I’d seen all I needed to see. The city manager and a CARD board member in attendance at a private function that wasn’t even covered in the newspaper.  I turned and left, went home to help my husband in the garden.

The next day I e-mailed city manager Orme to ask him about the meeting, if he would be giving a report, etc.  He responded politely,

Ms. Sumner,

I was attending to learn more about the 501c3 and what their objectives are in working with the community and local organizations.  I have not been asked to participate in any formal way to date.  Thus, I have no formal report until such a time I have received a request for the City to participate with this organization, which I would then report back to Council on to determine if they would like staff to be a part of the effort. 

It looks like, at this time, the only government entity that’s working with this group is CARD – but I’m not entirely sure what that relationship is – formal or informal. 

Good day,

Mark

I don’t want to be rude, so I let that go. But come on – he was invited because he’s the city manager, that’s the only way he would have known about it. He was wearing a pre-made name tag.

And then I wondered, did this group pay for the use of the Pavilion? CARD bought the Pavilion as an asset, they were going to make so much money having weddings there! That never panned – in fact, they are still in the red on the loan they secured to buy it, and now they find the place is full of dry rot. But it is still supposed to be a For Rent facility. So I  e-mailed Mrs. Potato – hey, I was nice – and asked her how much this consulting group paid for the use of the Pavilion.

That was yesterday morning. She has yet to answer. I cc’d my county supervisor and the “observer” from the Women’s League of Voters.  Ooooo, I be soooo bad!

We’ve allowed our “public servants” to become elite citizens who don’t have to explain anything to us anymore. We’re like the cuckold who pays the bills!

In the old days, they’d say, we’re wearing the horns.

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2 thoughts on “Wearing the horns

  1. Wow! There is so much going on out of the public’s view. No wonder the public is so clueless.

    Two or three people could work full time trying to figure out what all these people are doing and how much it will cost the taxpayers and they still could not keep track of it all.

    Did you see Lando out there? He’s got his fingers in so many pies it would make your head spin.

    The interaction between all the various local government entities, the non-profits and the politically connected “consultants” and companies is a tangled web.

    • Exactly, this is just how they do it – behind closed doors at some posh country clubhouse. I only received the invitation a day ahead of time, and it looked like the person who forwarded it to me had just received it.

      You know, I was so nervous, I tried to scan the crowd, but only saw two faces I recognized – Orme and Malowney. I left pretty early, others probably showed up later.

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