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Editorial: City’s logo should not be for sale

EditorialartMilwaukee’s leaders are the stewards, not the owners, of the city logo they are trying to sell to the highest bidder.

For the second time in less than two years, they want to strike a deal in which a lateral-pipe warranty company uses the city’s logo on letters encouraging residents to buy insurance for the pipes that connect homes to the city’s sewer mains. In exchange, the city gets a kickback from the company for every sale.

The city is terminating a similar contract with Utility Service Partners Private Label Inc. Under that contract, approved in 2011, the service cost residents $9.50 per month, and the city received 10 percent of each monthly payment.

The city has collected nearly $170,000 in kickbacks.

City leaders were arrogant enough to think they had the right to sell the city’s logo. Rather than passing the kickbacks on to residents as savings on the premiums, the city leaders were greedy enough to keep those monthly payments of 95 cents clinking into the city treasury.

So, for 10 cents on the dollar, the city sold its one priceless asset: the trust of those it serves.

Residents opening letters stamped with the Milwaukee logo assume the city endorses the company pitching its product. They assume that after analyzing what the company is offering, city officials think it both worthy and worthwhile.

Based on the principle that people trust government to act on their behalf, there could be no other logical assumption.

But endorsements violate that principle. City government is ill-equipped to offer the assurances necessary to justify an endorsement of any company. Without that capability, the city cannot guarantee its choice of company will best serve residents, nor can it claim to be helping residents who cannot help themselves.

The city simply is selling its logo for a private company’s sales and marketing campaign.

In fact, city leaders did terminate the contract with Utility Service Partners, but not because they realized they had crossed the line between serving residents and trying to make a buck off of them. They did not suddenly understand they were betraying residents’ trust by letting them assume whatever they chose to upon opening those letters.

So the city is drawing up a request for proposals from companies interested in making a deal that, to the city leaders’ credit, would include reducing residents’ monthly premiums.

The break on premiums is a false sweetener to convince residents they’re going to get a better deal. It’s a sweetener because it looks good to anyone trying to save a buck, but it’s false because it’s based on the original deal with Utility Service Partners, a deal in which the city leaders sold out the public’s trust 95 cents at a time.

Those leaders fail to recognize that they cannot put a price tag on the city logo unless they are willing to sell their integrity along with it.

Editor’s Note: This editorial was corrected July 29 to use the word “logo” instead of “seal.”

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