Burlingame much more than ‘brochure error’ | AspenTimes.com

Burlingame much more than ‘brochure error’

Dear Editor:

Burlingame finances get more perplexing with every city ad and newspaper article. Two facts need to be better understood:

1. The massive disclosure error was not merely a “brochure error,” unknown to the city in 2005. The city consistently and knowingly used materially understated cost numbers in a widespread multimedia campaign, not merely in the brochure, as they now claim.

2. The city indicated that at 2004 tax collection levels, the entire project could be funded with about two years’ taxes, requiring no debt. They now propose massive, long-term debt.

During the 2005 election season, the city stated that the total taxpayer subsidy would be $14.7 million, although their estimates at that time were multiples of that and grew to recent estimates of $88 million (excluding financing costs). Contrary to the city’s claim, officials endorsed this misinformation in the brochure, in newspaper interviews, in campaign-issue committee websites and, reportedly, on GrassRoots TV. The Times reported in January 2005, presumably after an interview with city officials, that the $14.7 million included all costs for the complete project, such as infrastructure, architecture, legal, etc. ” the very costs the city excluded.

The voter materials implied that the entire project could be paid for with about two years of RETT collections. Clearly the city knew better and avoided disclosing the known need for the significant debt required.

No official stepped forward during the Burlingame campaign to correct the press reports or city-produced documents, although officials knew the numbers promoted to the citizens were materially understated. Officials were surely reading the local papers on the topic.

Given the widely disseminated misinformation, why was no effort made to correct it?

If corporate officers and directors issue flawed earnings reports to the shareholders, they face severe penalties if they fail to take immediate steps to rectify. The same is true of a release of a questionable prescription drug. Company officials must promptly notify the public and physicians. Why should we tolerate lower standards from our city leaders for voter materials?

They claim that it was merely a “language error” in one isolated document, despite the clear record to the contrary. They call the brochure a “marketing piece with no basis in reality,” implying that voters were foolish to rely on it. As the city attorney acknowledged recently, the city is legally precluded from taking an advocacy position on a ballot measure. Yet they heavily promoted this “marketing piece.”

Some city officials justify the actions by claiming that the voters were unconcerned about the costs. They say that no investigation is necessary. They fail to see the problem of knowingly promoting erroneous voter information and following with denials, attempts to deflect and delivering more misinformation.

The city complacently positions itself above the law and principles of good governance in disseminating information to the electorate, who have, until recently, assumed city-generated information to be reliable.

I hope that citizens will soon demand more accountability, transparency and responsiveness from our local government, despite City Council’s appeals that we “move on.”

Marilyn Marks


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