A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!
While I’m not a big believer in rules for the sake of rules, I can see where guidelines and policies might be a good idea. Having a naming rights policy for Wauwatosa public property is a good idea for all sorts of reasons.
So I wanted to know why new Alderman Robert Dennik found the proposal by Community Development Committee colleagues Don Birschel and Dennis McBride “overkill.”
“For what?” he asked.
“For naming rights,” I replied.
“Theoretically,” he said. “I know, but for what?” he said again.
Nobody’s out there pounding on the door asking to buy naming rights for the Hart Park Stadium, he pointed out, and with the economy as it is, no reason to expect anyone any time soon. And both of those are true as far as I know.
“What’s the big hurry? Why push this through in two weeks?" Dennik asked. It’s like the stimulus package, all the rush. Let’s take a deep breath and see how the whole thing works out.”
“How what whole thing works? I thought you said there’s nothing in the works,” I proceeded. “And didn’t the Mayor introduce the idea of naming rights?”
“I just think we need to think about it, be methodical,” he concluded.
Here’s why aldermanic turnover is a problem. While Dennik knew that the idea of naming rights had originally been introduced by Mayor Didier, he wasn’t around for the meeting three months ago, February 24, 2009, at which the initial discussion was held. There, the idea of going slowly and establishing criteria as a first step was raised and discussed. There were nods around the table (I was there), although there was no formal vote.
So for Mr. Dennik and others who missed out on the earlier discussion, here are some good reasons to have guidelines in place even before they are needed.
Perhaps most important, the process of developing and approving the criteria invite citizen participation and let elected officals enact the will of those they represent.
- When Lambeau Field was renovated, the question of offsetting the cost by selling naming rights was discussed, but it never got far. The Packer’s history, Curly Lambeau, and all the meaning decades of fans attached to the name were precious, worth paying to keep.
- When the Minnesota Twins built a new stadium, a different community held a different discussion. They decided to sell naming rights, but only to Minnesota-based companies whose business was consistent with the Twins’ family-focused brand and who had a strong history of civic action. With that guideline in mind, the fundraisers knew who to target and started pounding on the doors of every Fortune 500 company that fit the bill. And Target it was who took the bait. I wish the Land ‘o Lakes company had: what a great Minnnesota name that would have been!
Another good reason to have set policies is for the sake of fairness. When each decision is made on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis with no uniform standard, it’s easy to let personal bias interfere or to make unequal decisions for obscure reasons.
Having a policy in place saves time, too: you know upfront whether a prospect is eligible, and you don’t have to debate every point of possibility each time you have a buyer.
Finally, naming rights can be a very sticky first amendment issue. When “government speech” and “commercial speech” butt up against each other, you need constitutional lawyers to sort out the dividing line. You can avoid that—and expensive litigation-- if you’ve already drawn the line in a policy document.
Dennik is right about being methodical. As Minnetonka school board vice chairwoman Marsha Adou said, “Sometimes things look great from the beginning, and you realize there are some complications to it. I think you have to [look at corporate funding these days]. You just have to be careful.”
And it’s so much easier to be careful if you have prepared in advance. Determining a good policy now will not only make things easier later, but it will help the Mayor in her fundraising efforts for Hart Park. We all want her to succeed.
Call your alders and ask them to support the naming rights proposal next Tuesday, June 2. Bring your comments to the meeting: they're always interesting--your ideas and the meetings.