“Politicians say they're beefing up our economy. Most don't know beef from pork.”—Harold LowmanPity the Pam Slater-Prices of the world.
Put on this planet to keep the public focused on the important things in life—like more nights at the opera and the theater and looking snappy in a black evening gown—instead they must endure the slings and arrows of the jealously unelected.
“The arts will lift you up, especially in these difficult times,” Slater-Price proclaimed last month in a State of the County address widely viewed as heavy on hope and light on reasons to have any.
“We have accomplished a lot since the first Board of Supervisors rode to meetings by horseback, coach or wagon,” she said, setting the bar fairly low in comparing today's political landscape with that of our dirt-road-navigating forebears of a century-and-a-half ago.
Today, she argued in her address, arts and cultural venues generate $394 million for the local economy. “Five million admissions annually can't be wrong!” she added—and, yes, the text of her speech actually included the exclamation point.
“That's why I support the arts,” she concluded, thereby giving more speech time to that topic than such pesky, less glamorous county problems as providing a safety net to the county's poor, undernourished and sick.
And it is undoubtedly why the arts support people like Pam Slater-Price—and where the slings and arrows come in from stage left.
As one of five county supervisors, Slater-Price is also burdened by the annual ritual of handing out $2 million in taxpayer money any way she sees fit. Burden, you ask? How can that be a burden, you know, being a kind of Reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich cultural venues of our fair hamlet?
Well, you see, there are these supposedly tricky rules passed down from the state gods of ethical behavior that pretty much set in stone what elected officials can and can't accept in the form of gifts, gratuities, honoraria and the like.
Yep, and the folks at the Fair Political Practices Commission, which doles out the penalties for breaking these rules, don't mess around—they even fine people for such behavior. Because, apparently, this commission thinks that gift-giving in the political world has consequences and at a minimum should be reported to the general populace on an annual basis. I know, go figure.
So, imagine Slater-Price's embarrassment—and, really, we're imagining because her peeps refused to talk to Spin Cycle for this column—when the Union-Tribune reported last week that she had neglected to report on state-mandated financial disclosure forms the 20 free tickets she received from 2006 to 2009 for productions at the San Diego Opera and Old Globe.
Being two of the more generously bestowed beneficiaries of Slater-Price's annual slush fund (what am I saying? She calls it a “Community Project Fund”), the freebies would certainly raise red flags over at the FPPC.
But calmer heads prevailed in PamLand.
Apparently caught between show times and feeling a tad apologetic, Slater-Price was tracked down by the crackerjack North County Times after the U-T report surfaced and coughed up this beauty:
“It was never my intention to do anything other than follow the law. The problem was, my staff and myself were guided by a document that said if you receive a ticket to a nonprofit event or fundraiser, it wasn't necessary to report it—and that was wrong.”
Spin Cycle thought this document would be of great interest to a wide swath of political raconteurs and dealmakers, so I asked John Weil, Slater-Price's chief of staff, for a copy.
Weil said he'd send it along, but nothing arrived by press time. OK, back to imagining. Maybe they're keeping this “take-any-ol'-ticket” document close to the vest so Slater-Price won't have to sit next to a snoring Bill Horn at an upcoming theatrical production.
But state law seems pretty clear-cut: Elected officials must disclose on their Statements of Economic Interests, which must be filed by April 1 of every year, if they received free tickets. The law also caps the value of such gifts from any single source at $420.
But, as Slater-Price extolled in her February speech, “this county government is accountable to you. I am accountable to you.”
So for her penance, Slater-Price told the Times that she would henceforth avoid the temptation of accepting free tickets and also write a “personal check” to the Globe and opera folks to cover the $1,470 cost of past freebie shows.
“I never want to do anything to impugn myself or an arts organization,” the North County Times quoted her as saying, and Spin Cycle is guessing the sentiment is pure—for in the world of PamLand, one never impugns oneself nor the arts.
But everything else? Apparently that's fair game.
Dear readers, as we head into the political season of 2010, let's remember moments like these. As the late novelist Joseph Conrad once said, “It is not the clear-sighted who rule the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm fog.”
Some seemed surprised that San Diego's own Madame Butterfly, termed-out Councilmember Donna Frye, would flit off into the political sunset without taking a crack at breaking the Republican stranglehold that has defined county government for two decades.
Spin Cycle, however, was not. Jumping from the belfry of City Council thumb-wrestling matches to the rubber park that is the county Board of Supervisors—let's just say it's not for the sane of mind.
“There are many good things on the horizon,” Slater-Price concluded in her February speech. “We face difficulties. But beyond the storm, the sun shines bright.”
Translation: Heck, I make $143,000 a year—I can totally afford opera tickets!
Lookin' for freebies—tips, that is. Send them to email@example.com.