Don't let Gene Simmons sing
Sometimes good things come in bad packages, like a Beatles song sung by Gene Simmons or a fine Carneros pinot noir sold in an aluminum can.
Such thoughts came to mind last week when a proposal was presented to the Sonoma City Council for a Mayor's Office of Protocol.
Sonoma has enough contact with the outside world, and attracts enough dignitaries from governments and industries with our brand of wine country romance, to warrant serious consideration of a more formal approach to handling high-level relationships. As long as such a service is virtually free.
Because the one transparent reality about almost any city budget in California is that it is still shrinking, it's not getting bigger, and Sonoma's is no exception. Until this recession recedes like an economic tsunami draining back to sea, there is little reason to believe that Sonoma will have any extra money for anything not considered an essential city service.
And learning how to address and entertain mid-level bureaucrats, industrial delegations and your occasional wine-loving celebrity doesn't rank up there among essential services.
What drove a wooden stake through the proposal however, were the six-digit estimates for the annual cost of a protocol office.
In what might be viewed as a serious misreading of political and financial reality, the proposal proponent suggested that, "$200,000 to $500,000 per annum is a typical small city budget for events, gifts and staffing, as compared to that of a large city such as Chicago whose protocol office budget is over $5 million."
What relevance Chicago's protocol budget has to Sonoma is beyond us, unless it was intended to reduce the shock of even contemplating a half-million dollar budget for protocol assistance in a town of less than 10,000 people.
On the other hand, protocol assistance seemed to be only part of a grandiose menu of activities the likes of which Sonoma has never seen or even remotely considered.
Included among the tasks enumerated were:
• Enhancing the public image of city government.
• Partnering with the business community.
• Helping to attract commerce and tourism.
• Promoting diversity and cross-cultural understanding.
• Creating a system of formalized mayor's correspondence, including anniversary letters, birthday letters, certificates of appreciation, citations, service awards, proclamations and salutes.
• Creating a mayor's gift program.
• Arranging flag-raising ceremonies and press conferences.
It must be acknowledged that the proposal envisaged private funding for the full cost of the office. But we would have to suggest that, if there is a loose $500,000 floating around town in search of a place to roost, there are a number of schools that would be happy to give it a home.
After some slightly baffled back-and-forth about the need and wisdom for such an expensive service, the council agreed not to shoot it dead on the spot but to entertain further discussion down the road, perhaps with some radically revised scope and cost projections. We hope that's possible. We shudder at the thought of hearing Gene Simmons sing, "Hey Jude."