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Is there pork in Denver's parking operation?

How smart are the city's new Smart Meters? Smart enough to take Visa and MasterCard — but not smart enough to accommodate the refillable CashKeys that many parkers use to plug Denver's 5,000-plus standard meters.

But that wasn't the complaint that alarmed Ann Williams, director of communications for Denver's Department of Public Works. She couldn't understand why one carper was labeling the city's Smart Meter pilot program just another pork-barrel project stuffed into the stimulus package — until she found www.stimuluswatch.org, an independent site "built to help the new administration keep its pledge to invest stimulus money smartly." The site lists all the "shovel-ready" projects that mayors and municipalities submitted to the 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors report — a total of more than $2 billion worth of projects in Colorado alone.

Just one problem: Many of those projects — including the "Smart Meter parking meter replacement," a $4 million line item — were not funded by the stimulus package. Williams advised www.stimuluswatch.org of this but has yet to hear back from the website operator. (Off Limits is still waiting for a response, too.)

For the pilot project that put 145 single-space and nine dual-space Smart Meters throughout the city last November, the vendor provided the meters gratis and covered 100 percent of the operational costs, Williams reports. The city gets to keep all the meter money but is responsible for up to $5,000 in credit-card processing fees during the course of the test period, which runs through April.

The Department of Public Works hasn't decided whether to commit to buying Smart Meters (and, yes, the money would come from the city coffers, not the feds), which is why it's soliciting comments from parkers right now at www.DenverMeter.com. "The bulk of the negative comments involve the CashKey," Williams says. "So if we decide to go forward with the program, we'll come up with some kind of system like the CashKey."

And no matter what the city decides to do about the Smart Meters, one thing's certain: It won't be buying more stupid parking kiosks, like those in Cherry Creek and along Larimer Square. "The kiosk response is so mixed," Williams notes. "That's why we're looking at Smart Meters and asking for input."

Smart idea.

Public Works wasn't the only Denver office to get a call from people peeved about pork. The Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave also heard from irate citizens after a national Fox news report mocked a $190,000 grant in the federal omnibus budget bill to digitize historic documents related to Buffalo Bill Cody.

Just two problems: The grant was earmarked for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, not the Denver-owned museum, and in addition to requesting some federal support, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center had already secured $310,000 from private donors and $300,000 from the Wyoming State Legislature for the historically significant project. "This funding request is a normal part of the process that museums and many other institutions go through to secure funding," said Bruce Eldridge, executive director of the Cody facility, in a response to the Fox piece. "This request will provide additional support for what we consider to be important scholarly work. It's unfortunate that some people appear to regard scholarship as unnecessary."

Steve Friesen, director of the Buffalo Bill Museum, seconds that sentiment — even though his place on Lookout Mountain won't see any of those federal funds, and he still had to field irate, if confused, phone calls. "People need food and people need health care," he says. "But people also need what the arts can afford them. They feed the soul."

 
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