Wick Communications

The $24,000 unveiling

In journalism on 25 Jan 2013 at 9:36 am

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In retrospect, the cookies should have tipped us off. Failing that, the giveaway ponchos were a sign. Both were emblazoned with the logo of a local sewer agency and both were free to dignitaries who attended the unveiling of a series of underground storage tanks designed to handle excess wastewater in the wet months. And yes, the event was as interesting as it sounds.

The Half Moon Bay Review covered the event. There were fewer than 50 people there that day. The suits stood around, patting each other on the back for another job well done.

It wasn’t until much later that anyone bothered to ask how much the affair cost ratepayers, and when those questions were raised, they didn’t come from a reporter. It was Mayor Rick Kowalczyk, who also has a seat on the sewer board, who first brought the issue to the attention of the public.

The mayor said he was livid at the public expense of a project that, while important, didn’t require a big to-do. He forwarded the newspaper the invoices, which included a consultant’s charge of $1,753.75 for clerical work. That line item included asking me if she could use a map we produced as part of the event pamphlet. So we’re clear, the consultant charged the sewer agency $115 an hour to ask me if it could use a map that we were happy to give the agency for free.

So now this is a “thing.” Two elected officials on separate boards have promised an inquiry. The agency director has been accused of systematically overspending on administration. …

We’re writing these stories now, but we weren’t leading the charge.

The lesson here is to go to these public things with eyes wide open. If you see anything out of the ordinary – like trays of cookies frosted with a public agency’s logo – ask who’s paying for it.


  1. The watchdog sometimes falls asleep at the leash. Maybe along with a reporter’s notebook and recorder we should include a chew toy to help stay awake at some of these agency meetings.

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