Last night, we were treated to a brief meeting and light agenda. Nothing too earth-shattering to speak of, so I’m going to try to make lemonade out of fire trucks and parking. Yikes.
1. Well, That Was Weird
Councilor Yem filed a motion to “Request City Manager And Lowell Fire Department Explore The Possibility Of Purchasing An Electric Fire Truck.” The agenda noted that there would be a “video presentation” accompanying the motion. The motion itself seems reasonable enough. It just so happens that we’re in the market for new fire trucks, we have cash set aside for them, and it’s allegedly part of our plan to build a fleet of electric vehicles:
However, things got a bit uncomfortable when Councilor Yem proceeded to show the public a free five minute “infomercial” for the Pierce Corporation’s Volterra (TM) Fire Engine. The video (which can be found here) features Madison, WI’s Fire Chief offering a glowing review of his shiny new red fire truck.
Showing a commercial for a private corporation in a public forum is, at best, bizarre. Fortunately, several councilors bristled at the move. Councilor Yem made sure to emphasize that he had no financial interest in the Pierce Corporation. However, based on his research, he determined that Pierce offered the best product. I was hoping that his research also would have revealed that Madison got their Volterra (TM) for free. Perhaps the Chief’s review was colored by the fact that the vehicle is on “indefinite loan” to the the Madison FD by the Pierce Corporation.
Councilor Jenness correctly noted that e-vehicles of this type represent a new and unproven technology. Given the dire needs of our fire department for equipment, it may not be the best idea to to be gambling on unproven technology.
I’m fairly confident that Councilor Yem had good intentions. Indeed, we need to look at electric options whenever possible. However, anytime anyone uses public office to do the bidding of a private corporation, the Citizen editorial board is sure to get all bent out of shape.
2. Free Parking For Everyone?
Speaking of government perks for private business – once again, citizens have been asked to subsidize car storage downtown:
C. Leahy/C. Jenness – Req. City Mgr. Have Proper Department Install (2) 15 Minute Parking Signs In Front Of Trem Caipira Restaurant At 19 Hurd Street.
The genesis of the motion was likely a petition by the business owner:
I assume we’re talking about free 15 minute parking, right? If so, why are councilors advocating for two prime spots when the business owner only asked for one? These motions represent good politics but bad government. Councilors, after all, want to be seen as helping small business – especially in the wake of Covid. The request looks reasonable and how can anyone say no to one little spot to help someone live their dream?
The first problem is the cumulative effect of these gifts. If you say “yes” to Company X, how can you later say “no” to Company Y? If you’ve said “yes” to Companies X & Y, then surely you must also say “yes” to everyone else.
The next problem is once of enforcement. How do we have the resources to monitor 15 minute parking? Maybe our new meters will have some kind of technology that can do the job? I don’t know.
Finally, if our approach does not evolve, our Parking Enterprise Fund is projected to remain (severely) in the red through 2028:
We need to do a better job at pricing our parking resources. This is especially true when it comes to premium street spots in front of businesses. Others, have suggested that this dynamic could be remedied, in part, by the creation of an independent Parking Commission that could, in theory, be insulated from the political fallout of saying no to these requests. I think it’s an idea worth exploring.