Fired City Manager Received $1M in Pay
March 13, 2023
Despite being fired by the City Council in a 10-1 vote, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk will still collect $463,000 from taxpayers on his way out the door, adding to the $500,000 he already received for his last year’s work, according to our Open The Books investigation.
Cronk, who has been Austin City Manager since 2018, was fired due to his office’s slow and ineffective response to a power outage caused by a winter storm that left thousands of Austin residents without electricity for a week or longer.
Cronk’s office spent over $122,000 on a “Get Ready Central Texas” campaign, which attempted to raise awareness for emergencies and disasters by hosting fairs, distributing emergency kits, and launching an advertising campaign, though residents and city officials were still blindsided by the extended power outages.
The Associated Press reports that city officials “for days gave few updates about the widespread outages and no assurances about how long repairs would take.” The Associated Press also noted that “slow restoration efforts left thousands of people dealing with school closures, malfunctioning traffic lights and the financial pinch of spoiled groceries and hotel bills.”
Open The Books found the city employs 173 public relations and communications employees costing taxpayers $13 million per year. There were plenty of city resources, but the willingness to communicate in a crisis was lacking.
Despite the frustration at his response, Cronk’s “golden parachute” contract provision ensured that he received a large compensation package over the past year. That includes his $388,190 base salary, another estimated $132,000 in additional benefits like health insurance and executive perquisites, and a severance payment of $463,000. That’s a lot of money to be woefully unprepared for crises expected based on past events.
Salaries for critical administrative positions should be competitive to attract talented individuals. But they should come with increased scrutiny and oversight to ensure those individuals are doing their jobs.
State Department Gives $330K to Groups Blacklisting News Outlets
March 14, 2023
The State Department recently gave $330,000 to two organizations that funded The Global Disinformation Index, a British nonprofit that blacklists what it claims are “disinformation outlets,” including American political news outlets, in an effort to cut their ad funding, according to the Washington Examiner.
The Global Disinformation Index creates a “dynamic exclusion list” of news outlets it accuses of spreading disinformation, and then distributes them to advertising companies, including major players like Microsoft-owned advertising company Xandr. These companies then decline to place ads on these websites accused of disinformation, resulting in a loss of ad revenue.
According to the Index, many right-leaning sources such as the Washington Examiner, The New York Post, The Daily Wire, Newsmax, The Federalist, Reason, and even RealClearPolitics, rank in the top 10 “riskiest” news outlets for misinformation. Some of those, including the Washington Examiner, are also on the dynamic exclusion list, which leads to loss of revenue.
The funding for The Global Disinformation Index comes from two large entities, the National Endowment for Democracy and Disinfo Cloud, the former being a nonprofit that receives nearly all of its funding from Congressional appropriations, and the latter a now-defunct platform from the State Departments Global Engagement Center.
It’s wrong that American tax dollars are flowing to a British nonprofit, when America has multiple disinformation centers and labs within its borders, like UT Austin’s Global Disinformation Lab. More importantly, though, tax dollars should not go to a nonprofit that gets American news outlets demonetized, in direct contradiction to the spirit of our First Amendment.
Congress needs to give aggressive oversight to these and other nonprofits targeting American news outlets to ensure tax dollars aren’t funding censorship.
D.C. Overpays Millions for Public Housing
March 15, 2023
The City of Seattle recently reached a settlement after being sued by residents who felt abandoned by the police during riots in the summer of 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020, protests and riots sprang up around the nation, though few were as long and violent as Seattle’s. Protesters there declared a “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” or CHAZ, and erected barricades to mark its borders.
City officials allowed them to do this and even encouraged their efforts.
Plaintiffs in the suit described “extensive property damage, public safety dangers, and an inability to use and access their properties,” and detailed various crimes and mischief, including “violence, vandalism, excessive noise, public drug use, and other crimes,” The Journal reported.
One business owner inside the abandoned East Precinct area alleged that protestors doused his building with hand sanitizer and lit it on fire, and attacked his son with a spike, slashing his femoral artery. Police were called, but allegedly never responded to the incident.
Police finally stepped in and ended the CHAZ after two murders and multiple shootings.
All of this occurred because, as the plaintiffs alleged, Seattle chose “to actively endorse, enable and participate in the occupation.” The City of Seattle reached a settlement, agreeing to pay out $3.65 million to affected residents, though the city never admitted wrongdoing.
To make matters worse, key local officials including then-Mayor Jenny Durkan, then-Police Chief Carmen Best, and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins were criticized by a federal judge for deleting relevant text messages from their city phones after learning of the lawsuit. The settlement includes $600,000 in fines for deleted evidence.
One of the most essential duties of government is keeping residents safe, and Seattle residents are paying twice for their government’s inability to perform that duty: once from the lawlessness the residents endured and again for the settlement for the city's incompetence.
Throwback Thursday: NSF Tested Economic Principles on Pigeons
March 16, 2023
In 1981, the National Science Foundation spent $144,012 – over $473,000 in 2023 dollars – to test commonly accepted economic principles like supply and demand on pigeons.
Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, awarded the NSF his Golden Fleece Award for this useless experiment.
According to Proxmire, the research was performed by highly accredited economists and psychologists, and used technically correct and sound methods. The problem, though, is that researchers already had the answer to the questions they were posing.
Typically, tests are conducted on animals to determine applicability of a concept to humans. However, in this case, the concepts tested were already well understood in human behavior. In one set of experiments, the economic “substitution effect” of substituting cheaper goods for more expensive goods was tested. The price of certain foods was raised by requiring pigeons to peck more times to receive the food or by providing less food per peck, and pigeons moved away from the more “expensive” food that required more pecks and toward the better value.
Other experiments included studies on the supply of labor, determining if pigeons would trade income for leisure at various prices.
As noted, both of these phenomena have been thoroughly researched, tested, understood, and replicated in humans. There is no benefit in seeing if pigeons replicate human behavior.
“It is highly questionable whether these animal experiments can really give us any insight into the more much complex and serious problems of a modern society,” Proxmire said then.
Federal Government Interns Can Make $60K or More
March 17, 2023
While many internships in government remain unpaid or offer hourly wages, powerful federal agencies are advertising internships that pay $60,000 and more, according to a Fox News investigation.
An IT student trainee at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in San Francisco can make between $66,333 and $131,367 if they are willing to work full time during the summer and 20 hours a week while in school, Fox reported. It also offers those interns an indefinite full-time appointment to the office after the internship. In Fresno, the Department of Veterans Affairs is offering $63,758 for a yearlong student nurse technician internship.
In Washington, D.C., the Development Finance Corporation is offering between $64,957 and $84,441 for a student trainee for a yearlong portfolio monitoring internship. Also in D.C., the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General is offering $53,105 for a yearlong full-time paid internship.
The country’s median income in the 4th quarter of 2022 was $56,420, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics
Many of these programs offer the higher pay because they are “Pathway Programs” that look to recruit top students and convert them to full-time positions. Experts also speculate that the higher salaries are meant to compensate for the protracted and confusing government application process, according to Fox.
There is no problem with offering competitive salaries to recruit top talent, but offering interns without a college degree, working part time most of the year, more than the median household income of the U.S. is excessive.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.