Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why Ferndale should pass on paying $30,000 for the first totem pole

Woodward Avenue Action Association's Executive Director, Heather Carmona, went before Ferndale's city council Monday, November 26, asking council if they'd chip-in $30,000 so Ferndale could be the first city to have one of the 30'-tall totem poles.

There are many reasons why Ferndale should pass on being the first. Here are four of them and one tongue-in-cheek alternative.
  • We don't have $30,000 to waste. True, Ferndale may be sitting on a $4 million bank account thanks to fiscal prudence and an accounting over-site, but we'll need every dime of that in the coming years to supplement falling tax revenues and state revenue sharing dollars due to Michigan's struggling economy. Spending money like we have it (today) ignores the fact we may not have it tomorrow. Actions like this are how our state drained its rainy-day fund.

  • Federal Grants aren't "free money." Promoters of totem poles are quick to point out that most of the money comes from a federal grant for America's scenic byways. What too many people seem to forget is federal grants aren't free--they come from our income taxes! I'm not convinced Woodward Avenue totem poles are the best use of federal income taxes in 2007, or 2008, or any other year when our nation's deficit is growing nearly $1 million every minute.

    Think of the $100,000 (or $167,000 according to last Sunday's Mirror) as being only two zeros shy of Alaska's $10 million bridge to nowhere. If the citizens of Ketchikan, AK had paid for it themselves the rest of the country wouldn't have cared what the bridge connected to much less what it cost.

    If Ferndale really wants to be "the starting point" for something (as the Mirror reported our council wants to be) it could start by returning the $100,000 to the federal government. Think of what would happen if all recipients of pork barrel graft decided to send it back rather than spend it on their bridges (or totems). That would be a monument to our concern to the national deficit, earmarks, and respect for US taxpayers (many of them right here in Ferndale).

  • There are already monuments to America's love affair with cars and Woodward Avenue I pass them every where I go. They're usually near corners and read, "unleaded regular, $3.15/gallon." Like councilpersons Galloway and Gumbleton, I'm not real happy with what's on those signs but appointing a committee to change the font won't have the desired affect.

  • The Dream Cruise already celebrates Woodward, Cars, and Cruising. Each year approximately one million people make a pilgrimage to Woodward Avenue to celebrate the automobile, remember the good times they had driving them, and spend money all along Woodward. Our $30,000 is better invested in the cruise to attract more people to spend more money in Ferndale than elsewhere along Woodward.
One inexpensive alternative to a 30' monument with pictures from Ferndale's past would be a refrigerator residents could attach their favorite drawings to with magnets. I'm willing to donate the refrigerator. Any of Ferndale's pizza places could donate the magnets. Our totem would be unique, would change all the time with new drawings, and we wouldn't have to worry about the first DOT bus to slide out of control and destroy it. Our sanitation contractors pick up new (donated) refrigerators every week. Ferndale could take the $30,000 it saved and perhaps use it to buy new uniforms for the auxiliary police.

Some of our council members have complained they haven't seen much leadership from Lansing, but their willingness to spend $30,000 (or more) on a totem pole demonstrates they're already following Lansing's example.


  1. Tom-

    Your article does an excellent job summing up the views that I hope a lot of us share. I have attached the text of a letter I submitted to Mayor Porter and Council this afternoon regarding the same issue. Hopefully enough people are paying attention and will share their opinions so this will not just fly under the radar.


    Mayor Porter & City Council-

    After watching the November 26, 2007 council meeting replay I feel it is my responsibility to share with you my opinion regarding the request brought before you by the Woodward Avenue Action Association's Executive Director, Heather Carmona. Simply stated, I do not think it is in the best interest of the City of Ferndale to commit $30,000 of tax dollars to be the first city to build a memorial to Woodward Avenue. Although I do believe public art has its place in society and is an overall good, paying for developmental costs and overruns of a non-essential project is a reckless use of funds. I am certain that $30,000 could be put to better use in our city and I urge Council to revisit this issue to take another look at the potential of applying good tax dollars to an unnecessary project. The City of Ferndale is fortunate to be operating in a net surplus position however the waste of funds on projects which only serve to boost ego could easily jeopardize our financial future.

    I appreciate your time and consideration of my comments.

  2. Thanks, MJS.

    Another reason occurred to me. If mass transit returned to Woodward Ave might the monuments be in the way?

    How ironic that tributes to Woodward and personal automobiles, which did-in mass transit, would literally stand in the way of mass transit's return!

  3. Yikes.

    Thanks for highlighting the issue. This is the sphere at it's best...


  4. Tom, good points, I had not thought about where the remainder would come from. Ferndale could make a positive statement by returning the pork funds. Just like we don't usually eat the chunk of pork fat in the can of beans, put it aside, give it back. Below is my comment to council, maybe I should go to the meetings sometime. Thanks, Dale

    Mayor and Council, WA3 organizers:

    I object to Ferndale spending on the Woodward Tribute project. I encourage Council to reconsider its commitment of providing ANY funding for the WA3 Woodward Tribute Project. I don't care about 'celebrating' woodward. It's a road, albeit historic, which is already celebrated in many other ways. I think I've seen displays in several local museums, and the Dream Cruise is an obvious celebration of the road and all the local communities.

    Want to spend money on something with a possible return, come up with a way to get cruisers to frequent the ferndale portion of woodward. For example: How about allow cruiser parking on the median in the months before and after the cruise? Zero cost, and people will come here because of it. Between possible increased traffic for businesses, and increased traffic citation revenue, this would actually pay off.

    This suggestion, and the planned frivolous tribute project, conflict with Ferndale's (and my personal) goals of reducing our impact on the environment. A better suggestion to celebrate woodward: Add a bicycle path to the Woodward median.

    I would like to know more specific details about the WA3 Woodward Tribute Project. I would like to know more about how this investment is specifically perceived to be worthwile economically. Is it imagined that people will come from all around to see it? Will we charge admission? Where is the remaining funding coming from, it better not have been previously committed and this $30k is an overrun? Really, I would enjoy specific explanation. If it's really a sound economic investment, I encourage council and WA3 members to pay for it themselves, and find the returns on their investment in increased profits of their own businesses. Not willing? I rest my case.

    Thank you.
    Respectfully, Dale

  5. Dale, you reminded me of something my 13-year old son, Joshua, said a couple weeks ago while Tiffani and I were discussing this topic.

    He suggested Ferndale could better use the money paying for its defense against the honking lawsuit brought by Nancy Goedert and the ACLU.

    I should see if I can get him to write the Woodward Talk and get a letter-to-the-editor published.

  6. http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071228/NEWS05/71228032/1005

    The Woodward Avenue Action Association received $440K more of Woodward Avenue Tribute grants and Ferndale is still on the hook for $30K of development costs. How about spreading the total cost of development across all the communities participating. From my calculation (based on the article), there are going to be 5 poles in all (Downtown Detroit, Midtown Detroit, Fairgrounds Detroit, Ferndale & Birmingham). Therefore, the 30K should be divided by five resulting in the following contributions:

    Detroit: 18K (3 tributes * 6K)
    Ferndale: 6K (1 tribute * 6K)
    Birmingham: 6K (1 tribute * 6k)

    But instead Ferndale rushed in to be first and is now committed to the full 30K. What poor decision making by our local government.