April 18, 2006 > Sub rosa
Roman mythology relates a story of Cupid, the mischievous god of love, using a rose to bribe silence from Harpocrates, the sky god. Harpocrates is portrayed as a small boy holding his finger to his lips; known as the god of silence and secrecy. The Latin term sub rosa indicating confidentiality comes from this story and is translated literally as "under the rose." Roman ceilings of banquet rooms were often decorated with paintings of roses to remind partygoers that what was said at gatherings, often under the influence of wine, was to be regarded as confidential.
Those familiar with roses know that while the flower is pretty, it is often surrounded by sharp thorns that, if not taken seriously, can cause great pain. Life's lessons often follow suit and in many cases, a message may contain a "thorny" sub rosa context as well. Knowing about the thorns is important while admiring the rose.
These thoughts came to mind as I opened an interesting advertising piece sent to Fremont citizens by the city of Fremont. The front page of this expensive, full-color mailer from the Office of the City Manager asks "What City services do you most need?" and portrays firefighters struggling to put out a fire, another group of firefighters at the scene of a horrendous car wreck, workers spreading asphalt and police drawing their sidearms as they rush to a presumed life-threatening encounter.
While most of us have become somewhat numb to this type of imagery due to a constant barrage from the media of murder and mayhem - the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality - the message is clear. For those dimwitted few who need more instruction, the piece opens to reveal phrases discussing "brown-outs", increasing violent crime and potholes. The propaganda continues to note, "We have successfully tightened our belts to balance the budget" BUT "The city is unable to maintain essential services without additional funds" AND "Together, we can develop solutions to our budget challenges that meet the needs of the community."
Translation of this obvious creation of an atmosphere of fear is that the city is gearing up to present another tax and conditioning its citizens to hunker down and accept any recommendation from staff and council. Proposition V (Utility Tax) failed a few years ago because the council appeared inept and would not listen to citizen concerns, choosing to extort any money they could for the General Fund. The amount of money necessary to avert anarchy and mayhem was nebulous and the thought of asking for a special safety tax or including a sunset clause (a defined end to the tax without citizen approval of an extension) was intolerable.
This new approach utilizes a different methodology and entices us toward the "Son of V." Rather than dictate to the ignorant masses, staff is now creating the appearance of soliciting answers. The community feedback form we are invited to fill out asks respondents to prioritize services and leaves a few lines for any comments. There is nothing on the form asking for citizen input about solutions, a general tax, special tax, sunset clause or anything practical. Nothing addresses the recovering economy, city reserve funds or alternative strategies. Nothing mentions previous pronouncements of no appreciable rise in crime due to the well publicized limited alarm response policy and the current reversal of this message. This mailing piece and survey is an obvious ploy to gather contained and orchestrated responses, and then tell citizens that they ASKED for a tax and have ALREADY VOTED to use the money in a particular prioritized manner.
Citizens should be questioning councilmembers and staff. We should be asking why the city is spending money on a fear campaign. Why not come out from under the rose and reveal the true nature of these questions? How much did it cost the city to create and mail this pandering package of panic? Let's have a frank and open discussion of reserves that could be used to fix the roads before they fail completely and general tax alternatives including a special safety tax and a sunset clause.