In testimony at Wednesday's special meeting, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs mentioned in passing catering "for over 400 attendees" at the Aug. 1, 2010 Town Meeting. While the focus of the special meeting was on circumstances surrounding a $20,000 payment to radio station WBLS, her comment on catering reminded me that my original Open Public Records Act request was for all costs associated with the Town Meeting:
COST OF AUG. 1 TOWN MEETING, including school rental, speakers’ honorariums or fees, security, setup, including WBLS requirements, cost of videographing, food and supplies, plus any other incidentals.
If indeed food was ordered for the event, how was it paid for? We now know that payments to WBLS included not only the $20,000 from an IT account for "Hardware and Software Maintenance," but also $2,500 from a General Improvement Ordinance 1237 and $2,500 for "Outside Consulting Services." The latter two checks were for appearances by the WBLS "Street Team" and the radio station's van in the July 4th events for 2010. Were other dubious pots of money tapped for food at the Town Meeting?
On other possible costs:
- Plaintalker was advised to check with the school district regarding any costs associated with rental of Washington School for the event. It is possible there was no cost, but rather than ask the district, shouldn't this information be available from the city?
- Based on documentation Plaintalker received last month, both city and school district staff were involved in arranging a special telephone line to be installed for the radio broadcast. The records did not disclose the cost of the installation, nor did they indicate who paid for it, but communications about it went back and forth for a couple of weeks before the event.
- The city requested that the school district provide two security officers for the event. Who paid that cost?
One of the larger questions about this whole episode is why the administration saw fit to devote so much staff time and city resources to something that seems extraneous to core services of municipal government. To say that a panel discussion and a five-minute talk by The Rev. Al Sharpton was a life-saving public safety event - it's a bit of a stretch. Some say the investigation of a $20,000 expenditure is also a stretch, but Plaintalker is inclined to believe that the way the funds were handled reflects on city fiscal policies in general.
With two years to go in the present administration, one hopes citizens will demand more transparency about spending. Certainly residents were able to demand greater accountability from the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. The same should be possible for city government.