Costly city government luncheon raises concerns

By Dan Andrews

andrewsd@knoxfocus.com

Each year the City of Knoxville hosts an elaborate luncheon where the Mayor outlines the proposed city budget for the upcoming year. Last year the luncheon was held under a sprawling tent on the lawn of Victor Ashe Park where citizens were shuttled from spill over parking lots.

Recently questions have been raised about the costs and expenditures of this high profile event and whether the money can be better spent elsewhere.

According to public records obtained by The Knoxville Focus, last year the City of Knoxville spent $22,277.83 on The Mayoral Luncheon. Of that total, $10,740.33 was spent on tables, chairs, tents, etc. The City of Knoxville spent $8,660.00 on food alone. This total does not include the large amount of police, fire, and EMS that were also on official assignment while on taxpayer time. Nor does this include the fleet of buses that were rerouted to provide transportation for the guests of the luncheon.

According to City of Knoxville Communications Specialist Jesse Mayshark, 2,500 invitations were sent out and approximately 800 people attended the 2012 event. The City of Knoxville paid essentially $27.84 for each person who listened to the Mayor’s speech.

By comparison, not all City of Knoxville high profile events are as expensive. Recently, the Knoxville Fire Department held a graduation
ceremony with great pageantry at the city-owned auditorium located in the coliseum.  According to the Mayor’s office, the total cost to hold that
event was under $300.00

The auditorium has a seating capacity of 2,500. The same number as the invitations. If the City of Knoxville were to hold the Mayor’s Luncheon in the auditorium, over $20,000.00 could be saved.

Many families, businesses, and local civic groups are struggling amidst current economic conditions. Costly governmental expenditures such as these begs the question: should events like this even be held?

Recently, Mayor Madeline Rogero and Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis announced a $20,000 grant to help marketing and promotion efforts for South Knoxville businesses that have been affected by the extended closure of the Henley Bridge. In light of the recent news that South Knoxville will have to struggle longer then expected and the lackluster response from both the Mayor and Vice Mayor and city government in general, the Focus asked the Mayor’s office the following question:

“Does the Mayor’s office think it is  fiscally prudent to hold a Mayoral Luncheon on the same scale and spending as last year. Especially when
businesses in South Knoxville are struggling?”

We received the following email response.

“The Mayor’s Budget Address is an important civic event that goes back more than 20 years, through the administrations of four mayors, and it is a tradition well worth upholding. It is an opportunity for community leaders and the general public to come together for a review of the state of the City of Knoxville, and to hear the Mayor’s priorities for the coming year and the challenges that the City faces. Last year, more than 800 people from all parts of the City attended. By holding the luncheon in City parks and facilities, and rotating it annually to different Council districts, we highlight both our wonderful public assets and the diversity of Knoxville’s neighborhoods and communities. As with all of our other Special Events –such as Boomsday, Festival on the Fourth and Christmas in the City – we are always looking to be as economical as possible.”

With businesses desperately struggling in South Knoxville and the lackluster response by the City, maybe the City should be spending the $20,000.00 on promoting and fixing the problems of struggling businesses with good solid effective ideas and not promoting themselves. It makes no sense to promote the city which will be here for many years to come. Instead the money should be used to promote small businesses which are struggling and may not be here tomorrow because of lack of promotional funding from the city government.


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