Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Building Monuments to Yourself with Taxpayer Money

A lack of Humility is a major character flaw. One of the main reasons to get into public service as an elected official is... PUBLIC SERVICE. You're not supposed to be in it for yourself.
The recent hubbub over a school complex in Queens being named after State Senator Frank Padavan (R- Jamaica). It was named after him because he was able to get taxpayer money for the campus. And he accepted the naming.
Here in Nassau County we have Skelos Field.
Yup, that's right. Dean Skelos has a park named after him.
An ounce of humility in Padavan or Skelos would have them say "No thank you. Name the place after someone more deserving. Like a veteran, firefighter or or other local hero."
Just because they got the taxpayer money to pay for the things doesn't mean it should be named after them.
Andrew Stengel and Beth Foster of the Brennan Center for Justice have an op-ed in today's NY Daily News and they cover some of the ethical and legal problems with the namings.
"The state's Public Officers Law is clear on this: Elected officials cannot receive extra compensation or any gift of more than nominal value. Placing someone's name in a prominent place, whether it's an actual building or a tract of land, has monetary value. That's why many ballfields around the country are known by corporate names, like FedEx or Petco. Citibank will reportedly pay $20 million per year to call the new Mets stadium Citi Field.

Naming a school after Padavan appears, at the very least, to violate the spirit of the law, which says that an elected official cannot "solicit, accept or receive any gift having a value of seventy-five dollars or more whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form ... in the performance of his official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his part."
Worse still, according to the chancellor's regulations, "schools may not be named after living persons." The chancellor and others worked around this rule by arguing - get this - that it doesn't apply to a campus."

"It's all well and good to name property or monuments after beloved elected officials. Who doesn't know somebody who graduated from a Lincoln, Eisenhower or Kennedy public school?
But it's the height of cynicism to dole out naming rights to current officeholders when they direct public money - our money - to pet projects. After all, it is the job of a state representative to serve the district - that's Civics 101. If every sitting legislator's name were affixed to all the fruits of their labor, then their districts would look like giant elected official strip malls.
There's a pretty simple solution here: The state must pass a law that bans naming of any public property after sitting elected officials.
Unless and until that happens, the new Commission on Public Integrity should rule that naming this school (or "campus") after Padavan, especially in the election season, violates the current law. That would serve as a lesson for all and avoid future "ambiguities."

Show some humility Dean and have the park renamed for someone else.

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