Last week I asked the City Clerk to help me get information about who, besides Victor Wogen, are or have been council members or city employees who’ve benefited as vendors to the city, beyond their primary roles.
The Finance Office was able to provide 11 names for the period of my request, which was 2002-present. Six of them were employees who either offered one-time expertise that didn’t cost a lot, or who took advantage of a program (e.g. sidewalk replacement) that is well-publicized and available to any resident who qualifies. Since there are no legal, ethical or moral issues, nor are they elected officers of the city, I will not list them here.
Then there’s the strange case of Dave Baker.
Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker, as a member of Council, could and should regularly disclose some numbers about the volume of office supplies he sells to city departments but he does note his ownership on his Statement of Economic Interest and it’s never been a secret that Dave Baker is Copy Service. During the period of 2002 through 2006, he made (very rough ball park estimate) somewhere between $7500 and $10,000 per year in city business but these figures dropped off drastically in 2007 and now it’s an anomaly to see a Copy Service purchase in the city’s check register. (No, I don’t know why.)
The reason I call Baker a strange case is that he neither goes in the first category nor to my knowledge has he engaged in Wogen-like pursuit of city contracts under the radar. In all, except for wanting a bit more disclosure I have no problem with Baker.
He also does not fit the next group I’m going to talk about, that of regular city employees, or spouses of city employees, who earn taxpayers’ money beyond the roles they were hired for. This group I have a problem with on both ethical and moral grounds. The ethical problems are the connections and inside information that give them an edge on others in the community. My moral objection is that they already have positions with decent compensation and reasonable job security and in my book it is greedy not to leave the extras for those with fewer advantages.
Here are the Top 5 earners of taxpayers’ money over and above their regular jobs with the city, since 2002:
#3104, Masonry Works (Ald. Victor Wogen) earned $52,880 directly from the city in 2008, over and above his compensation as alderman, and not including whatever he’s made as a sub-contractor on streetscape projects since then.
#249525, Copy Service (Dave Baker) has made approximately $45,000 selling office supplies and related equipment and services since 2002.
#425625, Hinkle Snow Plowing [Pat Hinkle (now Hiland) and/or spouse], makes an average of over $1900 per year as a snow removal contractor.
#598500, Midwest Tree Service (Jim Ryan and/or spouse) got paid $62,369 for tree and snow services in 2002-3.
#900410, Ralph Griswold, in 2004, earned an additional $1275 for electrical inspections at $25 a pop.
The Finance Office cautioned me that they can only disclose what city employees know about, so there could be more. This, I venture, is a good argument for yearly disclosures by all staff — and, please, put it on the website so we don’t have to go to Sycamore to look it up.
Some types of arrangements might be banned, others limited, still others just covered by disclosure rules. One method of disclosure I particularly like is a requirement that contractors and other vendors reveal their city connections and financial interests routinely and before decisions are made.
Finally, I want to point out that the city manager not only has the power to approve all expenditures under $20,000 without the participation of City Council but he can also dispose of any city property valued under $20,000 without Council approval as well. Actions related to this power also should be subject to public disclosure.