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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


The Bob Zick Comedy Hour

North Saint Paul resident Bob Zick is a regular at our council meetings, always looking to create footage of himself to show on his cable access TV show. At this past Monday's meeting, he promised that he would be showing the video shot by his camera people (primarily the former mayor's husband) at last week's city council retreat and the citizens forum. Wondering what clips he would find to take wildly out of context, I TiVo'd his show out of curiosity and skimmed through it.

As it turns out, he never did play any video from either the retreat or the citizens forum. He played lot of video, but it all seemed to be him talking to the city council at our last two meetings. You'd think that fresh footage (not available online on demand) would be more interesting to his audience. Then again, the retreat was a nine-hour meeting that didn't include Bob Zick talking, so perhaps there wasn't any footage of interest to his regular viewer(s).

I did get a chance to see many examples of how spectacularly uninformed, misinformed and mathematically illiterate Mr. Zick is. For example, he went on about “pre-agenda meetings,” which have not been in place as long as I've been on the council. Those were meetings held the Thursday before a regular council meeting. The mayor and council would review the packet with staff, ask questions, and give staff a couple of days to research answers for the Monday meeting if they didn't have them already.

He also declared that this year's city council was working in secrecy out of the public eye, because we decide things in workshops, which are not broadcast. Umm...except that all our council workshops have been broadcast as long as I've been on the council. If you missed them, because they tend to start at some time between 4:30 and 5:30, all of the workshops since the start of 2010 are or will be archived for online viewing on demand.

Mr. Zick likes to pull amazing numbers out of the air, and declare them to be well-established facts. At one point he announced that the council/staff retreat cost $30,000-40,000; another time he said $80,000. I think I heard him say one point that city employees are paid $80 per hour (that would be $166,400 per year, though state law caps local government salaries at about $145,000), and he then multiplied that figure by the months of staff time he imagines went into setting up the retreat. At one point he claimed that meals at the retreat were “catered” and cost $10,000.

Sounds lavish, doesn't it! You might be imagining some high society party with sterling silver canape forks and servants in black ties.

Well, I never saw the caterers. It looked to me like city staff just set out snacks, drinks (coffee, hot water for tea, a cooler of soda pop), disposable cups and plates, and take-out food from some local restaurants. For breakfast there were a few things of yogurt, some muffins, coffee, two half gallon cartons of juice (pour your own into a paper cup), and some sliced fruit like you might pick up at Cub or Rainbow. At noon we had boxed lunches from Panera. For dinner, some big aluminum trays of salad and pasta, and some Italian bread (not heated like that fancy garlic bread you might have heard of, just cold sliced bread with packets of butter to spread on it yourself) from an Italian restaurant were set out for the five councilmembers and eleven staff members.

It says a lot about Mr. Zick's financial acuity that he imagines this spread would cost $10,000. Let's average $3,333 per meal – maybe less for breakfast (smaller, since department heads didn't join the retreat until lunchtime), more for dinner (what with bread on the side and some fancy packets of optional crushed red peppers for culinary thrill-seekers). I'm going to say there were no more than twenty boxed lunches from Panera (which, let's remember, is located in the same building that Mr. Zick claims as his Maplewood address). Do the math, $3,333 ÷ 20...

So the next time you see Mr. Zick claiming to speak with authority on any topic whatsoever, just remember — this is a guy who convinced himself that a six-inch sandwich, cookie and chips in a cardboard box from Panera Bread costs $167. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't trust him to buy lunch unsupervised, let alone advise my local government on policy and operations.

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