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Wayzata is a premier suburb located 11 miles west of downtown Minneapolis. With a population of 4,500 people, Wayzata is a tight-knit community which is known for its vibrant downtown and picturesque setting on Lake Minnetonka. A popular destination for visitors, Wayzata’s downtown is home to a number of specialty shops, boutiques, professional services, and restaurants.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

EDITORIAL: Municipalities should not promote businesses, regardless of cause

Recently, and to the dismay of many in the Wayzata community, some City Staff and and a few Council Members began promotion of a Facebook contest to benefit Partners in Preservation in exchange for $5,000 and the opportunity to win more funds if it helped to guide our behavior by 'liking' an American Express funded charity.  Regretfully, Wayzata.com also promoted the contest at the request of City Staff.

Official newsletter from City of Wayzata
promoting American Express, Partners
in Preservation, and Facebook.
The promotional message featuring American Express and their corporate do-gooding was placed on the City of Wayzata's official website, and forwarded as a press release on two separate occasions on official City of Wayzata letterhead.  The most outrageous infraction in my opinion was the banner hung on the Wayzata Depot advertising the contest on Facebook, Partners in Preservation, and American Express.

Municipalities are in the business of sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation.  Accepting funds in exchange for advertising dollars is not the business that the City of Wayzata should be engaged in, because the tax payers should not have to bear any expense to promote businesses.  No staff time, no email resources, no letterhead / graphic design expense, no television time, etc.  There are those who will say that this is no big deal, and that this kind of thing should be tolerated.  Or, that business pay higher taxes and should therefore receive greater benefit than the citizens.  I don't agree.

City of Wayzata's website as of 10/11/2011.
You see, the problem is that this is part of an overall trend for government and educational systems to promote business via advertising to help fund themselves.  Wayzata's football team played at Edina last Thursday evening and on one end of the field was a giant LCD screen advertising sports apparel and higher learning opportunities, with a happy go lucky reminder that ad dollars help to support Edina Public Schools.

Ad dollars that are spent on government and educational channels are taken out of the private market, and not spent on print, mail, broadcast, or internet mediums that are controlled by private enterprise. Further, there is a conflict of interest by the City as it takes money in exchange for influence over it's own citizens.

At this time, on the home page of the City of Wayzata's website and in it's current edition of the Portal (two total pages of communication), there are no less than 15 businesses / non-profits / charities or programs outside of City services mentioned by name:

  • Park Nicollet
  • Breast Cancer awareness
  • Facebook
  • American Express
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Partners in Preservation
  • Wayzata Chamber of Commerce
  • IOCP
  • Wayzata Wine & Spirits
  • Wayzata Bar & Grill
  • Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association
  • Wayzata Weekends
  • Boo Blast
  • Twitter
  • Memorial Blood Center
  • United States Post Office
  • Randy's Sanitation
Some of these organizations claim to have influence and indeed lobby for preferential treatment from the City.  Others are City run monopolies and it could therefore be argued that mentioning them on the City's website is unnecessary.  While one could argue the merits of each and explain away all mentions of non-profits, businesses, and programs, collectively it is difficult to ignore.  

Press release from City of
Wayzata featuring Partners
in Preservation, Facebook,
and American Express.
The message coming from City Hall is our citizens, our government website, and our government buildings are available for advertisements to the highest bidder, so long as we can get a new roof for the Depot.  Will we see City Hall plastered with McDonald's banners to fix our plumbing?  Motor vehicle department with Village Chevrolet ads to pay the electric bill?  Pizza delivery ads on Wayzata squad cars to help pay for routine maintenance? 

Contrast this to the mentions of businesses and non-profits on the City of Minnetonka's website and eight page newsletter, (United Health Group, Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, and Gotta Go Gotta Throw) and the comparison is plain for all to see.  Promotion of Facebook and non-profits or businesses needs to be toned down substantially in the City of Wayzata's communications.  Organizations that lobby the City should not be promoted by the City in it's communications.  That is as big a conflict of interest as there is--and the equivalent of seeing an ad for Halliburton on the White House letterhead, website, and lawn while the President promotes the benefit of offset expenses to the American taxpayer.

If we take away the money component from the equation, how does a business get promoted by the City of Wayzata on it's website and newsletter?  Business owners all over town would like to receive a free plug at taxpayer expense.  

Have a different take?  Let the Wayzata community know in the comment box below.

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