Parkinson’s Law and the Bicycle Shed Effect at Work in Mesa

Parkinson’s law of triviality mentions a case where a committee has to discuss a nuclear power plant, a bicycle shed and refreshment expenses. The short version is that they will spend more time discussing the bicycle shed and refreshments than they will on the nuclear power plant because the latter is something they don’t understand, while the former is something they all understand and can weigh in on.

I saw a variation of this in today’s Mesa City Council Study session. While the amounts they discussed to help the homeless, fund preschool and other social services are not unimportant, the spending was trivial in terms of the overall budget. What caught my attention was the common refrain that the city doesn’t have enough money for all of the programs to help people-after voting last month to move forward on giving ASU up to $75 million for a downtown campus.

In a separate item, there was a discussion about spending a few hundred thousand to improve facades of buildings in downtown Mesa to spur economic development when Councilman Whitaker asked if it was necessary if all the promised economic development promised by an ASU campus came to fruition.

The items discussed were a little more than a bike shed or refreshment expense and the ASU project isn’t quite a nuclear power plant and there will be more discussion, but the principal is the same. The ASU project is supposedly hip and cool even if Council doesn’t understand exactly what they will be doing there. Nor is there any understanding of whether the project will pay for itself. The question has been asked and they simply don’t know. If you can get a concrete answer share it with me and I’ll share it with the public.

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