HUMOR ISSUE: City hires consultant to analyze consultants

CARING FOR CONSULTANTS: City consultants rally in Pack Square Park to demand more pork barrel contracts with Asheville city government. Image via Flickr

FAKE NEWS BADGE WEBEditor’s note: This article appeared in the Jan. 3 print edition of the Mountain Xpress Humor Issue. It presents a lighter, satirical take on local topics and personalities. It is not news.

By Axe Blunt

In response to the growing concerns of many Asheville residents about the city’s frequent use of consultants on municipal projects, City Council announced this week that it has hired the consultant firm Scrutinize Capital Administrative Management Inc., or SCAM, to evaluate the effectiveness of consultancies on various city initiatives.

“It’s clear that the people of Asheville want transparency with how the city hires and uses these consultants,” said Council member Julie Mayfield. “We believe that in order to provide the best transparency possible, we need to add a few more layers to the bureaucracy first.”

Turning the old adage “less is more” on its head, City Council voted unanimously to approve the contract with SCAM, which will spend the next several years evaluating the impact and influence of third-party consultants on issues from infrastructure to affordable housing.

“Honestly, it’s hard for us to sit here and tell you how effective our consultant partners have been recently,” noted Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler. “We’re hoping that SCAM will be able to provide us with some statistics that will assist us in further talking around the issue.”

Currently, the city employs an untold number of consultants on projects ranging from the Interstate 26 Connector to what type of fruit salad to serve at City Council’s annual retreat and which Council member is the tallest.

Council member Keith Young noted that a recent survey of Asheville voters indicated a majority of citizens approved of consultants. However, that same study also reported that 99.9 percent of those surveyed were unable to identity what service these consultants actually provided.

HEAVY-HANDED DEALS: City Manager Gary Jackson welcomes a representative of the SCAM consultancy firm to Asheville (and the city’s coffers). Photo via Flickr
HEAVY-HANDED DEALS: City Manager Gary Jackson welcomes a representative of the SCAM consultancy firm to Asheville (and the city’s coffers). Photo via Flickr

Local Libertarian pundit Alan Ditmore says it’s obvious that the consultants are representatives of an advanced race of alien lifeforms, sent to Earth ahead of their global invasion to lay the foundation of a new world order, in which all residents will wear hats made of tinfoil and speak a universal language he calls “Squaloo.”

“I’m overjoyed to welcome our new masters — it’s about time we do away with the political establishment and support the grassroot efforts of these extraterrestrial overlords,” Ditmore said in a phone call from his underground bunker somewhere in the rural stretches of Buncombe County, before rambling incoherently for 15 minutes on the devastating effects of breakfast cereal on indigenous populations in Burkina Faso.

SCAM’s chief executive officer, Howie Robem, declined to go into specifics of how his firm would compile and rate consultant performance, noting only that his staff would be billing taxpayers by the hour for its work.

“What is clear is that the city needs more consultants,” Robem noted as he checked into his five-star, all-expenses-paid room at the Omni Grove Park Inn. “We plan to produce a very thorough report on our report, complete with bar graphs in vibrant colors. Everyone loves bar graphs.”

Mayor Esther Manheimer said the city plans to introduce a new bond referendum in next year’s election that would provide an additional $36 million in order to pay for future consultancies. When asked why city staff couldn’t do the work themselves, Manheimer replied that staffers have more important tasks on their plates than doing their jobs.

“With so many exciting, important things happening around Asheville, we believe that our staff needs to prioritize which projects they devote their attention to,” Manheimer said, noting that the Riverfront Redevelopment team was currently embroiled in a complicated discussion about what font to use on its construction signage, while Parks & Recreation is busy debating proper mowing techniques, and the Asheville Housing Authority is tied up with taking community feedback on whether to paint its buildings blue or yellow.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if they decide those projects could use the help of a consultant as well,” Manheimer added.

One Council member did express surprise at the decision to hire SCAM: Brian Haynes nearly fell from his chair when awakened from a nap to give his vote during the hearing. Haynes subsequently mumbled something about Gov’t Mule before returning to his slumber.

While the fruits of this latest decision to outsource responsibility on major city projects to third-party companies with no stake in the outcome have yet to be tasted, new Council member Vijay Kapoor sounded cautiously optimistic in his evaluation of its potential.

“This whole thing will go over like a lead balloon,” Kapoor said. City Manager Gary Jackson clarified that the city is considering hiring a consultant to evaluate the aerodynamic potential of metal inflatables in light of Kapoor’s statement.



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