The day the purchase order was signed, Council President Rodney Wiltshire opted not to buy nine new chairs – presumably one per Council member - that would have cost $2,352.
“I've instructed the clerk to cancel the order. I've read some interesting ideas here on getting chairs at low or no cost. Ken Zalewski and Penny thank you for some great ideas. Surplus chairs from an institution that may want to donate them could be a great option,” Wiltshire wrote on Facebook in response to a number of posts critical of the purchase. “Moreover, and just to reiterate, This expenditure is budgeted. But I think that tablets for better productivity is a wiser purchase.”
Councilman Ken Zalewski, D-District 5, attempted to deflect the critics saying the relatively small amount of money is just 0.0035 percent of the city’s $66 million-plus budget.
“It ignores the fact that every city employee has a decent chair to sit in. It ignores the fact that the Planning Department recently purchased a brand new set of chairs for the conference room to replace already-comfortable but somewhat dilapidated chairs,” Zalewski said of a post on this blog. “Like I said, I don't care either way. I'll sit on the floor if I have to. But come on, an entire blog post on $2,350 out of a $66,124,624 budget? I'm anxiously awaiting similar scrutiny on that other $66,122,274.”
Councilman Jim Gordon, R-District 1, said he learned of the purchase after the aforementioned blog post was put up on Facebook.
“What??? You're kidding?? This is how I learn of such an unnecessary expense? I spoke against this during the budget hearing and will again - I do not need a new chair! No one does!,” he wrote. “If attendees at council meetings can ‘suffer’ on similar chairs then we too can do their business on them. This is ridiculous.”
Prior to Wiltshire’s decision to nix the new chairs, Gordon said on Twitter that he would buy each member of the Council a seat cushion and that he would gladly give his chair to the first person to mention “chairgate” at the Feb. 5 meeting.
A number of citizens and business owners weighed in on social media too.
“What is really sad is they placed the order in the first place. Then cancel the order when it gets too hot on Facebook?” said Debra Lockrow, owner of Artcentric in downtown. “The council needs Facebook conversations to give them a clue on how to behave with fiscal intelligence?”
“They paid for those chairs with the money they got from me when they hired GAR to overestimate the value of my property!” said Jo Rehm. “Then it cost me more money to hire someone to come in & do an accurate estimate. Do I get any of that money back, hell no!”
Penny Bonesteel said the Council should explore other options like using the new chairs the Planning Department just purchased. Zalewski concurred and said it would take nine minutes to move the chairs – one minute per chair.
“None of us are naive enough to think 2k is going to tip the bucket one way or the other, but given the circumstances, it definitely sends the wrong message to citizens that are going to have to deal with a lot of butt pain in the foreseeable future,” said Nancy A Bourgeois Wright.
And she is right, the $2,352 is not going to make or break the city and either is the $10,000 confidential secretary or the $27,000-plus assistant city clerk. But the impact is two-fold: One is that pennies eventually lead to dollars and it just sends the wrong message given the city's financial crunch that will get nothing but worse in the very near future.