All up in your business

Why is SMUD helping to pay to bring Sarah Palin and Howard Deanto town? Are they hoping to develop some new source of renewable energy based on hot air?

Bites is talking, of course, about the Perspectives event put on every year by the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce.

In the past, speakers have included Rush Limbaugh, the late Molly Ivins, Robert Kennedy Jr. and Karl Rove.

This year, the headliners are Palin and Dean, along with a couple of motivational-speaker types, who will no doubt pack the Sacramento Convention Center on October 15.

As a public agency, SMUD is strictly forbidden from getting involved in politics. Yet every year, SMUD and Sacramento Regional Transit pony up as event sponsors, helping pay the most partisan of politicians to come flap their gums for the enjoyment of Sacramento’s business elite.

This year, SMUD’s in for about $5,000, in exchange for some event tickets and the right to put up an exhibit booth during the event. Likewise, RT gives about $3,000 for the Perspectives event.

Bites doesn’t begrudge some of the event sponsors, like PG&E and The Sacramento Bee, for doing their thing. Sure, some of that money might be better spent saving somebody’s job at 21st and Q, or maybe helping to not blow up somebody’s neighborhood in San Bruno. But, whatever: Private companies can do what they want with their money.

But why drag the public into it? As a SMUD ratepayer, Bites really doesn’t want to pay Palin’s outsized speaking fee. Dean’s, either.

Officials at both agencies say the event is just good marketing. “We get name recognition and a chance to reach out across our demographic base,” said SMUD’s Chris Capra. Maybe so, though with the Perspectives minimum ticket price going for $175, Bites wonders if there aren’t more effective ways to reach likely customers.

And if public money is going to pay Palin and Dean, shouldn’t we at least get to know how much they’re getting paid?

Nope. “Our contracts are confidential,” said Hal Silliman, communications director for the Metro Chamber.

They say elephants have long memories. Well, so do the people who profit off of elephant exploitation.

The good people at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus apparently haven’t forgotten what happened in Sacramento last month, when the city passed, and then clumsily attempted to enforce, an ordinance requiring humane treatment of pachyderms and other performing beasts that come through town.

The circus people protested when the city officials said some of the Ringling elephants were arthritic and should give only limited performances.

They asked for a second opinion and got it. The elephants were cleared for duty, and the show went on. Good enough?

Perhaps not. The company’s lawyers have filed a public-records request with the city, demanding copies of e-mails and other correspondence that circulated around City Hall having to do with the humane-treatment law.

The fishing expedition specifically seeks e-mails to and from Interim City Manager Gus Vina and several other city officials, as well as communication between city staff and anybody associated with The Marin Humane Society, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, In Defense of Animals and Born Free USA.

Sounds like quite a conspiracy. Bites tried several times to reach their attorney, John T. Kennedy, to ask what Ringling Bros. was up to. A lawsuit against the city ordinance, perhaps? But Kennedy didn’t return any of Bites’ calls.

Public records, public money, but none of your business.