Monday, November 16, 2009

Fire truck update: Broken down in Sawdust City, and some answers to questions

After posting my recent entry about the fire truck purchased by Mayor Paul Esslinger, some of you contacted me with additional comments / questions. I’ve also been asked to post whatever answers I get to the various questions. In addition, some new information has come to light, so I wanted to provide you with an update.

First, I have learned from the folks at City Hall that Chief Franz used a vacation day to make the Illinois road trip with Esslinger and that, as of today, there was nothing turned in for reimbursement of meals or mileage, nor was there any anticipation there would be. Good to know.

Next, some folks mentioned to me that besides the cost of insuring the truck once Esslinger actually turns it over to the city, there is the cost of gas and oil to operate it. After all, they said, he’s not going to push it down the street. True enough. Then there’s the cost of city staff having to spend time doing the accounting for this special project of Esslinger’s. I don’t care if it takes 10 minutes a week or 10 hours a week, it is time spent by city staff on something that he – and our common council – should not have saddled them, or us, with. If he wanted to raise funds to recoup his costs, he should have done it in a completely different manner, not encumber the city with this kind of ridiculousness - especially when the city has so many more pressing matters to attend to. I understand his discomfort with not wanting to accept money directly from taxpayers, but I'll bet there would have been a way he could do it and avoid ethics issues, an appearance of impropriety, and the like. He also could have approached the Community Foundation instead of the city, as suggested by Jess King; why didn't he? Does he have some personal beef with them? Would the Foundation have charged a fee of some kind to administer this? Was it "easier" or more expeditious for Esslinger to have the city handle it? Again, more questions than answers, it seems.

It should also be pointed out that if Esslinger does not raise enough funds to recover his financial outlay and, therefore, doesn’t turn the fire truck over to the city, the city will be legally obligated to return the funds that have been donated specifically for the truck. That is more time spent by city staff on this so-called “gift.” (Anyone besides me recall how Mr. Esslinger felt about some past “gifts” the city has received, especially when there would be some funds spent by the city as the result of accepting said gift?)

Incidentally, I’m not exactly sure who first called this truck a gift, but I'm thinking we should stop calling it that. After all, a gift is something you give unconditionally - with no strings attached; not something you give and then expect repayment for in return. Nor is it something you promise to give if or when the recipient pays you what you've paid for it.

Besides the insurance, gas and oil, there will also be ongoing maintenance costs associated with this fire truck. As it is, the truck apparently has already had its first mechanical or maintenance issues. It’s my understanding from one city staffer who is close to this issue that the truck “broke down” and, for one reason or another, was pulled from last week’s Holiday Parade – Esslinger’s first big “fundraising” event. This person didn't know if the truck broke down before it got to Oshkosh or after it arrived, but clearly, the very reason Esslinger said he needed this “gift” resolution rushed through the council, didn’t happen after all. Since he still owns the truck I wonder if he’ll now want to recover the cost of repairs, whatever they may be, as part of the overall approximately $11,000 he expects to get back.

With even more questions and ownership / operating-related costs for the city coming to light, it bothers me even more that our council (a) allowed it to be rushed through as it was; (b) didn’t ask enough or the appropriate questions; and (3) felt it necessary to apologize for the few questions that were raised. I believe the proper thing to do at this point is to bring this item back for reconsideration, give the public ample time to talk about it and let Esslinger set this up the way it should have been done in the first place – without any more city staff time being wasted on it. Bob Poeschl would certainly be able to do that now, even though he wasn’t last week. But whether it’s Poeschl or another councilor, someone from this body should be responsible and accountable enough to do so, instead of worrying about looking our mayoral “gift” horse in the mouth.

(Be sure to vote in our electronic poll about this issue on the right side of the page)


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