An embarrassing lesson

Paltry donations in red-topped meters underscores the importance of transparency

Well, it looks as though the city of Chico learned its lesson when it comes to its new red-topped parking meters. Those are the “donation stations” downtown that ask the public to give not directly to panhandlers, but rather to contribute funds via the smart meters—the money ostensibly would be filtered to local service providers.

The issue that troubled this newspaper, which cautioned would-be donors in our op-ed pages, is that the city never explicitly stated whom the contributions would benefit. Recipients were to be determined after the fact at the whim of the City Council, which took up the issue during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 2.

The outcome of the city’s lack of transparency on this issue is that the public largely held on to their pocket change. The donation devices took in $277.35 during the holidays—generally the time of year people are most generous—and another $68.50 thereafter. Considering the installation and maintenance of the meters cost the taxpayers more than $600, it’s a disappointing and embarrassing outcome.

The takeaway is that the city ought to be transparent in all of its efforts, including those that may aid our important service providers. To us, it’s a no-brainer that people should know where their money is going.

During the council’s meeting, the panel voted to distribute this fiscal year’s donations to the financially struggling Torres Community Shelter and to decide during the upcoming budget process to whom next year’s contributions will be directed. That seems like a good call. It’s too bad it came so late in the game.