Saginaw City Hall’s Handling of The Showmobile is Illustrative of Government Disconnection

    icon Aug 12, 2010
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Let’s explore all of Saginaw City Hall’s “just say no” reasons for failing to work out arrangements for PRIDE to salvage the Showmobile for the downtown Friday Night Live series and other civic events in the years to come.

(1) The 36-year-old Showmobile is so decrepit, that it’s beyond repair. (Hard to believe at 36 years young. Are houses, which are more intricate than Showmobiles beyond saving if they were built during the 1970s? And we had thought there were historic preservationists on the City Council and in the mayor’s chair.)

(2) There are liability risks involved for the City. (There always are. Somebody might trip and fall at the new Andersen Splash Park, or at Ojibway Island or Hoyt Park.)

(3) State law prohibits City Hall from giving away property unless there is a “direct benefit.” (C’mon, this is gonna stop a deal with PRIDE? Isn’t there a direct benefit to bringing thousands of folks downtown for six summer Fridays every year?)

(4) City Hall no longer can afford paying staff to assemble and dissemble the Showmobile. (If this point were valid it seems PRIDE could arrange to pay those city workers for special services, similar in the manner that the Saginaw Spirit pays Sheriff Deputies for extra security at hockey games.)

(5) PRIDE and other civic group were informed by staff late last summer that City Hall intended to scrap the Showmobile, and did not act promptly to make other arrangements. (Ironically, PRIDE invited city staff to attend their meetings for months, yet the city never bothered to send anybody).

(6) City Hall cannot show favoritism when dispensing with city property. (Hmm – so when the city assembles and dispenses city-owned property for a developer, is that not “favoritism?”)

Even if City Manager Darnell Earley and the Council have their perceived reasons, the manner in which they have pursued matters is a community relations’ disaster that they should aim to never repeat.

PRIDE was told that the city would establish a valuation upon the Showmobile and the next thing they know, it is up for auction on e-bay with a ridiculously short auction expiration date. They shouldn’t need special Saul Alinsky training to work things through the city manager and staff. If not satisfied, the second step is to address the City Council; but this auction was steamrolled through so swiftly that the opportunity barely surfaced.

When it came down to the last minute, we ended up with Council members, hesitant on whether the City Charter allows them to “direct” Manager Earley to do anything, voting to “recommend” the manager to turn over the Showmobile to PRIDE for a nominal $1.

Then we have speedy developments within the administration making it apparent that the recommendation is non-binding. The state “direct benefit” provision is cited, along with the liability concerns that so often are pulled out when a unit of government doesn’t want to do something.       

Then we have a rush to auctioning the portable stage on Ebay, where a country music promoter from Maryland lands it for $7,800 while various PRIDE supporters, confused about what is happening, are disorganized in their attempts to make bids.

PRIDE may have been unclear on its aims of seeking grant money for a new stage instead of trying to fix the old one, but their people are amateur volunteers. Municipal managers and administrators, on the other hand, are professionals who should know how to work through these situations, even while a great deal of patience may be required.

To rush the auction onto Ebay does not seem to have been necessary or professional.

Next the City Manger says he’s willing to “help” PRIDE in the future, while most Council members stand by and act as though the whole issue is out of their hands.

What kind of community relations is this? As the old adage goes, “It’s not always just what you do, it’s how you do it.”

Jeannie Conger, the longtime PRIDE coordinator, offered this reaction: “It seemed like they were trying to think of reasons why they couldn’t help us, instead of thinking of ways to get it done.”

Terry Rock, PRIDE’s board chairman, says he doesn’t want to even deal with City Hall anymore. Still, he says he will join PRIDE’s vice-chair, Dr. Jack Nash, in a meeting with Mayor Branch to see if something can be ironed out.

Rock says a new portable stage, with hydraulics that highly removes the need for manual assembly, would cost about $125,000. He says estimated repairs and upgrades on the so-called “old” Showmobile would have been a fraction of the cost, maybe $10,000, and that PRIDE could have managed the task of assembling the stage.

Possibly the local bidders supporting PRIDE in the auction should try to buy the original Showmobile back from the Maryland promoter.

As for fears that Friday Night Live could move out of town, Rock says it really wouldn’t make sense for a group known as Positive Results In a Downtown Environment to do this. He says a temporary move to Ojibway could happen next summer if fund-raising takes a long time, but that Morley Plaza’s security situation and parking access is far superior.

Regarding the “direct benefit” issue that was raised, Rock says economists report that somebody who attends a free-admission public event normally spends about $30 with vendors and nearby businesses. It’s similar to JoAnn Crary from Saginaw Future promoting economic development tax breaks by declaring that each new job will lead to three “spinoff” jobs.

This raises a parallel: Would City Hall have communicated with Hemlock Semiconductor in the same manner as it has with PRIDE?

Council members and the manager might consider the reaction of civic activist Joyce Harvin, who hosts “Community Connections” at 2 p.m. Sundays on WTLZ-FM 107, She was PRIDE’s coordinator when the Showmobile was obtained mutually by PRIDE and City Hall during the middle 1970s.

“I’m seeing this as another example of the City not working with the community,” Harvin says. “The Showmobile had been shared with a number of community groups ... the African Cultural Festival, the Cinco de Mayo Parade, the old Ethnic Festival. The Showmobile has been very positive for the community.

“I have invited the City Manager many times to be a guest on my show. There has been no response.  I’ve been wondering, ‘What’s up with that?’ We need people in community leadership positions to be involved in the community.”

“I’m going to invite him again, and maybe he will come on and explain this.”



Additional Reporting by Robert Martin

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