See Ricki smile. See Ricki play bingo with seniors. See Ricki wear a silly hat. See Ricki hand out Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas trees.
All normal duties of a member of the Las Vegas City Council? You bet.
But those special moments can be all yours, all year long — in the commemorative 2013 Ricki Barlow calendar!
You get to enjoy 13 color photos of the Ward 5 councilman, spread over 12 months. See Ricki shovel dirt at a groundbreaking. See Ricki give away a bike! (Sorry, ladies, no beefcake in this pinup.)
The best part of this special offer: You’ve already paid for the calendar!
Barlow, like his colleagues on the council, gets a $25,000-per-year discretionary account. As the name suggests, council members have some latitude in deciding how to spend the money. If any such — ahem — outreach helps boost their profile, well, that’s an unintentional plus, I’m sure!
So Barlow spent almost $3,000 in tax money to have 500 of the glossy, full-color calendars printed up, a city spokesman confirmed. They even have the city seal emblazoned across the back, with the City Hall address. Think of them as larger, thicker business cards that don’t fit in your pocket.
Of course, Barlow isn’t the first Nevada politician to indulge in tax-funded self-promotion, and he certainly won’t be the last. Recall that last fall, Secretary of State Ross Miller included his color photo on postcards sent by the state to hundreds of thousands of Nevada addresses, urging them to register to vote online. You’ll see state Treasurer Kate Marshall’s face on promotions for Nevada’s prepaid tuition college savings plan. And members of Congress, the County Commission and other city councils have long used direct mail pieces to “update” constituents on government doings — including flattering photos of themselves — curiously close to re-election time.
At least those tax-funded communications mentioned some kind of government initiative, or a focus on programs or events beyond the politicians themselves. Barlow’s calendar, on the other hand, stretches desperately to incorporate some aspect of city business. City Council and Planning Commission meeting schedules are built into the calendar, as well as his monthly “Coffee with the Councilman” events. The back inside cover of the calendar includes city department phone numbers.
There’s simply no hiding that the calendar is all about Ricki. It is without question the most poorly disguised taxpayer-supported advertisement for a politician I’ve ever seen. It is shameless puffery, a waste of money that’s inexcusable in a city that faces a budget deficit and wants a sales tax increase to prop up public safety.
In the calendar, Barlow makes it clear he wants to be accessible to the public, using a tab to prominently display his phone number and a cellphone QR (Quick Response) code. I called Barlow at that number to ask him why he made the calendars, why he didn’t use campaign funds, and whether he thought he might be able to put almost $3,000 to better use in a ward that’s hurting more than any other. Maybe school supplies? After all, his calendar’s August photo was taken at his back-to-school fair. A shoe drive? Returning the money to the general fund? He didn’t return calls.
Anyone who defends Barlow by excusing the expenditure as small is misguided. A culture that tolerates small amounts of waste inevitably winds up with ever-larger boondoggles. And if our politicians lack the will to find ways to save small amounts of money, whether at local, state or federal scales, they’ll never be able to solve larger deficits.
And they’ll never stop asking for ever-larger sums of your money.
So get your Ricki Barlow 2013 calendar while you still can! If I can still get one in March, they might be gone by … December.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Review-Journal editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall,” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.