Scene in Passing: Ever seen a gorilla drive a VW? Read on |

Scene in Passing: Ever seen a gorilla drive a VW? Read on

John Barrette

The best-laid plans of mice, men, gorillas and government can get hoisted on their own petard, so it’s no surprise if others do as well.

Take the law of unintended consequences, for example. Such can emanate from government schemes conceived with the best of intentions, but short on the best of everything else. Hellacious happenings, even hilarious happenings can ensue.

“The law of unintended consequences is at work always and everywhere,” wrote Rob Norton, a columnist and former economics editor at Fortune Magazine.

“In 1968, for instance, Vermont outlawed roadside billboards and large signs in order to protect the state’s pastoral vistas,” Norton wrote. “One unintended consequence was the appearance of large, bizarre ‘sculptures’ adjacent to businesses. An auto dealer commissioned a 12-foot, 16 ton gorilla clutching a real Volkswagen Beetle.”

It was just one of many such statuesque advertising gimmicks in Vermont back then. Just imagine it: unintended King-Kong/VW vistas and their ilk around many a bend in the road to hellacious hilariousness.

This UC law visited Carson City government recently. The Board of Supervisors some months ago adopted a hotline program for whistleblowers to combat fraud, waste and abuse. The initial investigation “apparently” put Supervisor Jim Shirk on the griddle. An anonymous caller charged Shirk made thousands of paper copies at government expense, even 17,000 in one day.

“Apparently” comes in quotes because of “confidentiality.” That means we’re shooting in a dimly lit gallery here. Shirk, to his credit, went pubic and blew part of the confidentiality provisions out of the water at the last city Audit Committee meeting. He had been “basically” cleared, yet said the program had kinks and sought a letter exonerating him. He apparently instead will get a brief report.

It lets insiders — you know, the few who get to read it — “connect the dots.” The connect the dots comment came from Mark Steranka, Moss Adams internal audit consultant and spokesman for the hotline program. He said the report was “agnostic” in a bid to retain confidentiality. “We’re purposefully not putting details in this,” he said.

Shirk and three other city governing board members approved the program, for which the city pays up to $34,000. Supervisor John McKenna, the lone opponent, says now the program is paid for and the hotline should continue a while. But he also critiqued the confidentiality concept harshly at the Audit panel meeting last week.

“I don’t see that there is any expectation of confidentiality here,” said McKenna, noting a secret ends when two people know it.

So the UC law is on the loose again, much like a gorilla driving a VW.