Tom Frazier: Party's over -- who paid the bill?

Tom Frazier
Tom Frazier

The Sun-Star's coverage of the first four-year UC Merced class' graduation was impressive -- until the lights went out.

First lady Michelle Obama came to town. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event, thanks to the imagination and tenacity of the class of 2009.

The Sun-Star, in my opinion, did an astounding job. There were strong editorials congratulating the graduates, superb articles highlighting a few graduates by Danielle Gaines (complete with superior photography), a few investigative articles about security and runaway costs and even an extremely rare Sunday edition of the Sun-Star.

Then the coverage stopped.

I have one question:


The story isn't over. It may be just beginning. It's time to send out the Feral Dog pack.

Let's start with a few basics, which were well-covered (over-covered?) leading up to the event.

How much did UC Merced actually spend on the event? How was it paid? Is there a detailed breakdown? Is it true that the communications (uplink and JumboTron) were way overpriced, according to some blog posts?

What was the official count of attendees on campus? How many visitors did downtown Merced attract for the Cap&Town festival?

What was the total attendance in town, and how did it compare with the now infamous "Pazin estimate" of 25,000?

Why did regular attendees have to be in their seats over two hours prior to the start of the ceremony? Why did photographers and others have to be on campus at 6 a.m.?

What did security cost?

What did it cost to fly the first lady's limo into Castle? How about the first lady and the folks on her airplane?

Did UC Merced have to reimburse Washington for those flights, the Secret Service or other costs?

Speaking of Castle, on the Thursday before graduation day, I noticed a major landscaping project in progress at the ex-base. I didn't count them, but there was a large number of workers and more than one landscaping company involved.

New flowering plants, shrubs, grass, trees and other decorative items lined the route out of the base.

I called the county spokeswoman, Katie Albertson, to hear her mantra, "No, it has nothing to do with Michelle Obama's visit. We have been planning for some time to make the facility more attractive to potential tenants."

Yeah, right.

I think a Feral Dog could find out how much overtime or additional charges were spent beautifying the exit from Castle. Perhaps there were similar expenditures in Merced?

Let's not forget the weather. It was pretty hot, but could have been much worse. Even so, with no shade and the requirement to be in place so early, there were a number of heat-related problems. How many?

How serious? Who paid the bills?

On the other side of the coin, the Sun-Star alluded to a boon for motels and restaurants. Did that happen? Did Merced businesses actually see a bump of more than $1 million in revenue?

Some post-graduation articles suggested some restaurants exceeded their estimates, while others came up short. What's the bottom line?

Why wasn't there an editorial or a story about the protesters who tried to rain on the parade?

There is one man, Bob Carpenter, who didn't attend the graduation. Why?

Bob was a major player -- if not the major player -- to get the campus located here. Has anyone talked with him about why he didn't attend?

And finally, why wasn't there an editorial chastising the folks who left the campus immediately after Michelle Obama's speech?

I've heard estimates that 30 to 50 percent departed the scene.

To be sure, it was a moving speech, but the day should have been about the class of 2009.

It's time to send out the dog pack.

Tom Frazier writes Sun Dog and can be reached at