Square becomes town lightning rod

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Searching for a new notebook while wondering if the Cash for Clunkers program was deemed so successful, then how soon before we see Wampum for Washers or Moola for Microwaves? … One thing we are seeing is what should have been a relative tempest in a very small teacup starting to blow up into a real dilemma for the once ultra-cool City of Auburn’s government. For quite a few years now, Auburn has been head and shoulders above any other governmental entity when it comes to leadership and fiscal responsibility. Even the near mass destruction of what used to pass for our national economic system didn’t floor Auburn the way it did for nearly everyone else. But sometimes a gnat in the eye can fell even the strongest warrior. The trigger mechanism turned out to be the simple act of contemplating some sort of monument to coincide with Auburn’s campaign to be known as the Endurance Capital of the Free World. Problem is, whatever sort of pigeon roost they’ll come up with also seems to require the renaming of Central Square. Granted that the “Square” designation hardly fits geometrically. But whatever the borders are, the current Square is a concept cemented in the collective minds of nearly all Auburnians. And the criticism isn’t confined to just the physical parameters. Many local folks have already made their opinions known as to what they feel is a project to produce a place to display egos. There might be some truth there. After all, how many government buildings in the past were built mainly as a place on which to affix a brass plaque containing the names of those who spent taxpayers’ money as if it were their own? Now Auburn is going through the same thing, which is odd, given the fact that this little village has a pretty good track record of late as being able to solve problems before they become, well, problems. On the other hand, the villagers haven’t had much to carp about lately, so who can blame the citizenry for searching for something in order to blow off a little steam?  Little did we know that “endurance” wouldn’t mean just traveling great distances at a fast clip. Near as anyone can tell, the issue began when a couple of Meddlers politely inquired as to just when and where the committee running the endurance monument met. Michael Otten asked just that during a Meddlers meeting, and not quite satisfied with the lack of a complete answer, hustled up to the next floor of City Hall in an attempt to find out for himself. “The meeting was supposed to be that day, but I could not find a posted agenda,” he said, adding that he also checked in with the City Clerk’s office to no avail. “I even went on the city Web site and found no info on the meeting,” he said. At least two other Meddlers checked upstairs that day and could not find a posted agenda. Now, nobody is accusing anybody of anything nefarious here, but when the city has been dead-on on everything it’s touched in recent memory, an apparent violation of the Brown Act sticks in memory. You know, sort of like somebody making an error to ruin a perfect game in the ninth inning. City Manager Bob Richardson insists the info has always been readily available on the Web site. “And we’d be happy to include Mr. Otten on our mailing list if he so desires,” Richardson added. Funny thing is, the way most citizens yawn at governmental affairs these days, had the city taken out a full-page ad in the Journal announcing said gathering, the meeting would have played to just as many empty seats as face the council twice a month. Also, for the record, Otten insists that the teacup is not tiny. Instead, the naming — or re-naming — of an important part of town should not be treated lightly. He points out that Central Square once upon a time connected the court house and what we call Old Town with East Auburn and its vital train depot. “It really was the central part of town. It was even the place fireworks were set off to celebrate the Fourth of July,” he said. Otten knows these things, not only because he’s really old but also is the president of the Placer County Historical Society. “I guess what bothers me most is that Central Square belongs to everybody, but this current plan looks too narrow in its focus,” he said, adding that other options need to be looked into, such as having an endurance monument where the Western States trail closes in on the Pioneer Express Trail near the Overlook. He agrees that there’s not a bunch of evildoers here, but “there doesn’t appear to have been much due diligence done here. So far, we have a lot more questions than we do answers.” Naturally, the city government folks would disagree, and have already done so in print. Still, it’s a problem and needs to be solved post haste. On the other hand, there are a whole lot of cities, states and other governmental entities that would love to have something this minuscule be their main problem. Jim Ruffalo can be reached at