During the August 2016 Regular Meeting of Bellevue Council this past Tuesday, council debated at length the reservation of $10,000 of taxpayer money for seed money towards a community-wide party celebrating Bellevue’s 150th Anniversary. With the exception of using some of the money to have t-shirts printed, questions regarding the source of the funds, the purpose of the funds, and what entity would be responsible for spending said funds went largely unanswered. One councilmember suggested the $10K was just to start and that the “committee” planning the celebration may need to double that figure next year. Council found themselves swimming in additional confusion when members of the board directly contradicted each other regarding who was even running the show. One councilmember repeatedly stated, “This is a borough event. The borough is running this.” The Borough Manager, on the other hand, stated explicitly that he couldn’t be involved nor could he utilize his staff for this event because it was being planned by a committee seeking to be identified as a separate legal entity.
At the very least, there are far more questions than there are answers and prudence is necessary before we commit tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. At the worst, this celebration is well on its way of becoming one of the most mismanaged waste of taxpayer dollars in the storied history of mismanagement in Bellevue.
Let me be perfectly clear here, I’m not against celebrating Bellevue’s 150th birthday. In fact, I believe we should celebrate our history. I’m excited to be a part of that history in some small way. But (and this is a big BUT), we need to do it the right way.
The City of Pittsburgh just celebrated their 200th birthday this year. I wasn’t able to personally attend any of the festivities, but from all accounts it was a grand time. The elected officials of the City of Pittsburgh did NOT plan their own party. In fact, from what I’m told, City Council had next to nothing to do with planning and preparing the celebration. The City of Pittsburgh partnered with stakeholders in the community, people, companies, and organizations vested in the city’s past, present, and future, and this group threw a grand celebration with privately donated and fundraised money (I’m sure there was a figure contributed from the city, that information is yet to be received, but it most certainly wasn’t primarily a taxpayer funded party).
If egos and personal power trips over control weren’t part of the equation, this is how I’d suggest Bellevue’s 150th Celebration be handled: Bellevue Council, eager to ensure the best possible celebration possible, would reach out to and recruit deeply invested stakeholders in the community, the best creative minds in the borough, some of the most connected and proactive networkers in our region, not to mention people who have proven their passion for Bellevue through countless hours of volunteer work to make the borough a better place for everyone. Where might Bellevue Council find such people? They’d find each and every quality listed above within the incredibly diverse and passionate group known as Bellevue Initiative for Growth and Revitalization (BIGr). BIGr would not only be able to get this 150th Celebration planned, prepared, and organized with excellence, their networking skills would ensure maximum participation among our residents, businesses, non-profits, and other stakeholders. They’d have the ability and wherewithal to legally procure private donations and fundraise for the event. Their marketing expertise would do wonders to ensure every single soul in Bellevue was fully aware of the great time we’re going to have in the coming months. Frankly, there’s absolutely no reason BIGr shouldn’t be at the helm of this event if throwing the best possible celebration were truly the bottom line agenda. In reality, sadly, what we actually have is an inability for one person to give up control and properly delegate responsibilities to those who actually know what they’re doing. (full disclosure, while I was once a board member, currently I am in no way associated with BIGr but believe they are the greatest community development asset Bellevue has at its disposal).
The bottom line for me is this: while council is forced to endlessly complain to our residents that we simply don’t have the cash to rebuild the crumbling wall along Riverview Ave, cannot pay anyone enough to walk along our main street to actually clean up the litter, are plagued by flooding and water mitigation issues near the old Suburban Hospital that we can’t afford to fix, we have a very limited number of streets we can afford to repair every year, etc it seems grossly irresponsible to earmark $10,000 (or more) from an unknown budget line item, to be spent by a yet to be defined entity, on a celebration that is woefully unplanned and vague. While I am eager and hopeful that Bellevue’s 150th year will be a great season of reflection on our past and eager anticipation for our future, I will oppose what I consider to be a gross misappropriation of taxpayer funds and call on Bellevue residents and voters to express their concerns regarding this matter as well.