Candidate Questions: Volume I

The municipal election is coming up next month and this Dog has a few questions for Mayoral candidates Justus and Lucas. First and foremost, why a candidate forum wasn’t scheduled for the Historic Northeast area. Certainly speaks to the importance of an area, or lack thereof in this Dog’s eyes, if candidates don’t value the voters in Northeast.

The Dog, however, has his eyes on a number of boards and commissions within city government whose members voluntarily serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. Among those are the Historic Preservation Commission, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, and the City Plan Commission.

Another commission that doesn’t get much press, but will hold some pretty hefty clout very soon, is the Municipal Arts Commission, or MAC for short. MAC is tasked with the allocation of the 1% added to every municipal building project to pay for public art installations throughout the city.

With the construction under way of the $2 billion single terminal airport, you can easily see how the MAC will be “the bull of the woods” in terms of public art spending here in short order.

We took a look at this month’s MAC agenda and noted that the commission is desirous of overseeing not only art installations on public buildings, but also seeks to have oversight of art installations on private property, much like the art boards displayed here on the east wall of the House of News. This looks more than a little over-reaching to say the least.

We took a look at the City’s website to see just who sits on the Municipal Art Commission and once found, because it’s buried pretty well, it reads like a who’s who of some of the city’s biggest contractors and vendors such as HOK, or El Dorado. A quick glance at the list also reveals MAC members apparently don’t term out when their commission expires.

The Dog counted no less than six MAC members whose terms expired in 2015, 2016 and 2017. If these expired members are making decisions on the 1% for public art monies, how are those decisions valid given these members term expired on the board?

Additionally, and more importantly, will these members architectural and engineering firms be allowed to bid on public art projects? Conflict of interest anyone?

Another interesting little tidbit we learned was that recently, the city’s Public Art Administrator was laid off, leaving only one staff person to sail the ship. If art is so important to the city, then how and why was this individual laid off?

Both Mayoral candidates talk a good game about transparency in city government. This Sunshine Law, 4th-Estate Newsdog says bravo! But wait—MAC meetings aren’t streamed on the city’s government TV channel or posted to the City’s web site. Additionally, the public notice for the May 6th MAC meeting wasn’t posted on the city clerk’s website until late morning Monday. This is clearly in violation of the Open Meetings clause in Missouri’s Sunshine Law. What’s wrong with this picture? Certainly creates the perception of operating in the darkness, almost like the MAC has some ulterior agenda in perpetuity.

What is it the MAC doesn’t want the public to see? With no independent representation on the commission and some of the city’s heaviest hitters seated at the table, it certainly looks to this discerning Doggie that the 1% for public art will be funneled to those outfits with the biggest pay-to-play budgets in town and not to the smaller, independent artists that create some of the best community art installations in town; Jose Faus’ Woodland Elementary School mural being a shining example.

Here’s the bottom line: residents need to become actively engaged in the election process and ask the hard questions of the two Mayoral candidates. Questions centering on transparency or the re-structuring the Municipal Arts Commission to allow more small independent artists at the table. Will you appoint a City Artist much like the city of St. Paul, Minn., whose job it is to oversee projects with an artist’s eye instead of a campaign contributor with a big checkbook? If transparency is paramount, as both candidates claim, will they support the broadcast of MAC meetings?

Tune in next week when the Dog will have some pointed questions to the candidates about local control of the Police Department and the retention of City Manager Troy Schulte.

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