Should citizens have to pay to hear the mayor they elected fill them in on the state of their city?
We don't think so -- and we're pretty sure most tax-paying residents would agree with us.
Thus, we were disappointed and distressed to learn that Mayor Jim Ridenour will be giving this year's update on the Modesto's challenges and goals to a select audience of people willing and able to pay $40 to attend a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the DoubleTree Hotel.
In an article by reporter Leslie Albrecht in Thursday's Bee, Ridenour explained why he plans to give this year's state of the city speech at the Feb. 17 chamber event: He wants to send a strong message that Modesto is serious about job creation and economic development.
We fully agree with the need to create jobs and the need for the public and private sectors to work together to promote economic development. And we certainly don't have a problem with the chamber doing everything it can to encourage and support the business community; that is its mission.
But we do have a problem with the mayor's state of the city address to the community being given in a setting that isn't fully and freely open to the community.
The chamber describes the Feb. 17 event's audience as "business owners and executives, top government leaders, business professionals and community and civic leaders." What about mechanics, teachers, college students, cooks, sales clerks, retirees and all the others who care about the community, pay taxes and vote?
Only once each year does the mayor give this overview; when he does, each and every citizen -- be they rich or poor, working or not -- who wants to should be able to hear it in person.
City and chamber officials note that the mayor's talk will be videotaped and shown on TV. That's fine -- except for residents who don't have Comcast cable. And, they note that the text will be posted on the city's Web site. That's fine, too -- except for residents who have slow or no computer or Internet service, or who have limited reading skills.
Ridenour's response to the concerns and criticisms was disappointing: "You're going to have people that are going to bellyache about it," he told us.
That comes across to us as a verbal slap in the face to residents who really want to hear the mayor's speech but who can't or won't shell out the $40.
And it comes across as a slap in the face to the principle of openness and accessibility in government.
We see three options for the mayor:
Change the location. Recent years' speeches have been given at high schools, the State Theatre and in the chambers at Tenth Street Place. In fairness to the chamber and the folks who already have paid their $40, it's probably too late for this option.
Make arrangements for people who want to hear only the state of the city talk -- and not the rest of the chamber program -- to be able to do so at no cost. This could be as simple as setting aside a free area for sitting or standing. Or having the talk transmitted by closed circuit to an overflow area.
Plan to give the state of the city address a second time, either earlier or later the same day, at Tenth Street Place.
Sending a strong message that the city is serious about job creation and economic development is important.
But sending a strong message to the entire community that their interest and involvement are critical to meeting Modesto's challenges and opportunities is just as important. Sharing the state of the city with anyone interested -- at no cost -- will help deliver that message.