Con·sult·ant (kən sult’nt) n. A person you pay for doing the job you were supposed to be doing in the first place.
Nearly a decade after the torch-and-pitchfork-wielding angry mobs thought they’d driven a stake through the heart of the Ogden urban gondola vampire, the idea has suddenly and unceremoniously returned from the undead.
Last week, Standard-Examiner reporter Mark Shenefelt wrote a story about consultant Stuart Reid’s “Weber County Prosperity Plan,” a $187,500 economic development document that was delivered to the Weber County Commission last year. And one of the key proposals put forward in the report was the recycled idea of building an urban gondola in Ogden.
Shenefelt used a public records request to obtain a copy of the report — which, at 32 pages, works out to have cost taxpayers more than $5,800 per page. To which I say, speaking as a professional writer myself, “How do I get one of those sweet gigs?”
Look, I’m sure there are some amazing consultants out there — men and women who earn every penny of the work they do for companies and government entities. But I can’t help but think that in many instances these guns-for-hire simply put the “con” in “consultant.”
Local governments, in particular, seem to be susceptible to treating consulting contracts like antibiotics: totally overprescribed, not particularly effective, and relatively expensive for what you get in return.
For example, according to another Shenefelt story from December, in the past three years, the county spent more than $456,000 on contracts for “public relations services and economic development ventures.” At the time, commissioners said the county needed to do a better job of telling “community success stories” and that consultants were helping to craft a “comprehensive economic development push” to launch in 2018.
Leaving aside the ideas that A) if “community success stories” are truly that successful those stories will spread organically with the free help of community watchdog groups and media outlets, and B) crafting comprehensive economic development is one of the reasons we elect politicians in the first place, what am I missing here?
When these people run for political office, don’t they tout their experience and ability to get things done? I mean, if they’re just going to hire a consultant to do the heavy lifting, why don’t we avoid the middleman and simply elect the consultant to the office? (And believe me, I fully realize the irony of asking this question in a situation involving former state senator Stuart C. “The ‘C’ is for Conservative” Reid.)
In January 2015, S-E reporter Cathy McKitrick covered the commission meeting during which Reid’s two-year economic development consulting contract was approved. According to commission chairman Kerry Gibson, Reid would work “directly with our economic development department that is already up and functioning very well, and will add his expertise, knowledge, contacts and direction.”
For his consultations, Reid would be paid $90,000 a year — $7,500 a month — to, in the words of the contract, “initiate and assess the economic status, perceptions and expectations” of Weber County.
Explained Reid: “We’ll be doing a series of interviews with local government leaders, business leaders, developers and others both in and out of the county. From that, we’ll try to develop a direction where they’d like to go and think they should go in the future.”
So let me get this straight: You’ve already got a county economic development department that is, in the words of the commission, “functioning very well.” But instead of letting them do their job you’re going to pay an outside consultant $180 grand to basically ask everybody else what they’d do if they were running things? And on top of that, one of the consultant’s key suggestions turns out to be an old, recycled proposal for an urban gondola — an idea that hasn’t exactly aged well.
For realsies, people?
And speaking of things that don’t age well, 10 years ago this month — while Ogden was in the throes of catching Gondola Fever the first time around — a few of us at the Standard-Examiner put together a little animated video to show our enthusiastic support for the idea. Hilariously illustrated by graphic artist Bryan Nielsen, and poignantly sung by Don Porter, the music video “Stand By Your Tram” captures all the je ne sais quoi and joie de vivre of riding in a contraption that allows one to look down upon the poorer masses huddled below.
Story continues below video.
An interesting side note to the video is that while the circulated version featured yours truly in a digitally-added cowboy hat, Bryan’s original video cast then-mayor Matthew Godfrey (ironically, now a “consultant”) in the starring role. However, the newspaper’s publisher got cold feet at the last minute, worrying the mayor might take offense, and ordered Bryan to sub out the wee politician's face for my ugly mug.
For those worried that anybody beyond Stuart Reid might be serious about this urban gondola idea, relax. It would appear the commission never publicized Reid’s report, and since then commissioners have hired EVEN MORE consultants to produce a completely different economic development project.
Which is why today I’m officially announcing the formation of my own consultancy firm — Magic 8-Ball Consulting — that I’ll be making available to the Weber County Commission and other aimless government entities.
My company will be able to effectively address all of these politicians’ costly consulting needs with targeted 32-page reports filled with helpful terms like “It is decidedly so,” “My sources say no” and “Reply hazy, ask again later.”
And I’ll charge them a heck of a lot less than $180k.