As Bad as the Gift Card Scandal

It’s hard to blame some Metro Council members. They’re just doing things the way they’ve always done it. They just don’t get it that holding office isn’t about doling out favors and self-promotion.

The latest, reported by the C-J’s Dan Klepal, is as much the fault of Mayor Fischer as the council members, and points out the real need for Metro Government to put some clamps on how they spend those Neighborhood Development Funds.

Apparently the Mayor’s Office wanted Council members to give some NDF money to support WorldFest, one of Fischer’s pet projects and a worthwhile event. So Fischer had the sister of his chief-of-staff, who handles fund-raising for the event, make a pitch to Council members, promising publicity for members who pitched in. Fischer should have raised all the money he needs through corporate sponsorships, not on the backs of taxpayers.

And while I think taxpayer money shouldn’t go to support things like charities, gift cards, prizes, groceries for constituents  or the Mayor’s pet projects, the idea that Council members might be persuaded to give money in return for recognition  at an event takes wrong to a new level.

Actually, I like the policy that some Republicans have adopted. According to caucus spokesperson Steve Haag, some members only give NDF funds to capital projects within their districts.  Haag said that Jerry Miller, Ken Fleming and Kevin Kramer hold that view. As for “causes” like WorldFest, they wouldn’t participate at all.

“It’s not that they wouldn’t support it, but we don’t believe having our names placed on things because we’re giving away government money should be part of it, or giving money away in the first place,” Haag said.

Of course, no one who gave money to WorldFest will admit that the promise of advertising had anything to do with their decision to contribute (and again, they’re not contributing themselves, they’re contributing taxpayer dollars).

It is interesting to see the list of those who contributed to WorldFest at the Mayor’s request. New members David James and David Yates are not on it, nor are any Republicans (except Glen Stuckel, who I’m told committed before the request from the Mayor went out). The council president, Jim King,  said no. No, the ones who contributed are the ones who’ve been there the longest and like to use their NDF funds with no strings. Like David Tandy, provider of a barbecue for constituents, and Hamilton, who gave away gift cards as a prize for a door-decorating contest.

It wasn’t long ago that the C-J exposed Judy Green (who was apparently too sick to approve a WorldFest donation) for giving away prizes, such as gift cards, to constituents for showing up at community events. That’s bad, but the miscalculation by the Mayor’s Office and the Council Members who’ve paid to have their names associated with WorldFest, that’s worse.

Let’s hope this incident moves the Council to take a bigger step toward eliminating or putting serious strings on any taxpayer-funded giveaways by the Metro Council.

And Enjoy Worldfest this weekend.