Thursday, January 5, 2012

Here We Go Again

As I picked up this morning's local paper (The Record, serving northern New Jersey), I ran across this front-page headline: "Convention trip cost taxpayers $14,000." My initial concern was that conventions are once again being targeted as junkets, but as I read the more, I learned that those interviewed for the article were not questioning the merit of the conference in question — the New Jersey State League of Municipalities conference in November in Atlantic City — as much as raising the fact that one N.J. city (and potentially 17 other towns) failed to obtain proper state approval before sending 24 employees and officials to attend it. That city and those towns are under state supervision for receiving transitional aid and are therefore subject to a number of requirements regarding expenses — conferences included.

That was a relief, but I still imagined something of a smirk on the face of the writer as he described the conference: "Municipal officials have flocked to the conference for decades to attend seminars meant to improve government practices, schmooze with other officials, and be tempted to buy a wide range of services and products that are offered on the convention floor by private vendors." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

And in other recent government news in my neck of the woods, yesterday NY Gov. Cuomo announced plans to turn Manhattan's Javits Convention Center into a housing, hotel, and office development, while pushing for a new 3.8-million-square-foot convention center — the country's largest — at Aqueduct Raceway in Queens. Mayor Bloomberg, who supports the proposals, asked: "Could you imagine what we could do if we had a world-class, appropriate-sized convention center?"

It will take grit along with imagination to see the project through, as convention-center expansion is not without its critics. In an unrelated City Journal editorial on Dec. 31, Steven Malanga accuses cities of "squandering money on hotels and meeting facilities" by using public dollars to build convention center space for two decades — "far more than demand warranted."

I think we should all embrace a healthy debate on the topic. At the very least, it keeps our industry on the public's radar.

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