From the nation’s capitol to the state capitol, pols are crossing their fingers in the hope that Ford Motor Company will keep producing Ranger pickup trucks at its St. Paul factory through 2011, as suggested in news reports last week. U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman all expressed cautious hope that Ford execs will put off the plant’s closing, now planned for 2009, by two years. But while Ford workers await official word on their fates from Detroit, they may be surprised by what they see cruising past the plant on Mississippi River Boulevard: Toyota pickup trucks emblazoned with a logo celebrating a partnership between the City of Saint Paul and Ford rival Toyota.
In a deal inked earlier this year but with roots going back to 2005, St. Paul agreed to promote Toyota Corp. in its parks in return for $300,000 and free leases on 10 Toyota vehicles. In return, St. Paul promised Toyota sponsorship of city events, where the Japan-based multinational corporation will be allowed to promote its brand and its vehicles. A local marketing firm, Integroup, pitched the partnership to St. Paul and in the end brought Minneapolis parks along for the ride with a similar deal, with yet another parks partnership for Toyota in Des Moines as well.
“This partnership clearly demonstrates how the City and corporations can find local solutions to the problems we face,” Mayor Coleman said at a ceremony in March (video and press release)—the problem of Ford closing its plant and St. Paul losing 950 jobs apparently not among them. “These vehicles will help lay the groundwork for future initiatives to improve both the emissions and fuel efficiency of our vehicle fleet.”
Toyota Group Vice President Bob Carter called it a “unique partnership opportunity,” a distinction that can’t be much cause for celebration among St. Paul’s Ford workers or their higher-ups—the deciders in Detroit now weighing whether to continue manufacturing pickup trucks in St. Paul for three more years.
Ford workers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty had begged Ford to consider converting the plant to produce a new generation of more energy-efficient vehicles. And that’s just the type of vehicle Mayor Coleman and Minneapolis Park Board President Tom Nordyke lauded back in March—only they’re vehicles made by Toyota.
“Sustainability is a high priority for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board,” Nordyke said. “We are committed to reducing energy use in vehicles and to showcasing best practices. Our partnership with Toyota allows us to do both.” But of the 10 Toyota vehicles each city will showcase, a significant portion leave a heavy carbon treadmark: only six of the 10 are hybrids, and in Minneapolis at least, three of the four non-hybrids are the Toyota’s mongo Tundra trucks.
Mayor Coleman and Nordyke, who along with other park commissioners can contractually travel to official events in the leased Toyotas, might not want to show up in a shiny Tundras to the ceremony announcing Ford’s decision on whether to keep making Rangers in St. Paul. After all, Ford makes Rangers at a plant that’s powered by a renewable resource: water flowing by the Ford Dam on the Mississippi River. Like that water, St. Paul’s love for Ford seems to be over the dam.
Mayor Coleman’s office responded to this post on July 1:
I and my office read your story on the Toyota marketing agreement with Saint Paul and Minneapolis and were quite surprised and dismayed. Understanding that you are not new to the profession and given the pedigree of the people behind Minnesota Independent, your story misrepresented factual evidence and lacked both contextual reporting and professionalism that we thought the Minnesota Independent is trying to promote as a credible, independent media voice.
This is not a complaint about criticism or the scrutiny the contracts invite. This is a complaint about a lack of reporting to paint a true picture for readers about the nature behind the marketing agreement and the benefits it provides to the people we serve. The work behind this article seemed shallow and a bit superficial.
As you will recall, we sent you a copy of the contract as you requested, not simply because we have legal obligations, but because we have promoted since Mayor Chris Coleman took office an open environment where people are welcome to come and discuss what is on their minds. However, after sending you the contract, you made no apparent effort to contact our office again to discuss the contract, nor does it appear that you contacted anyone in our parks and recreation department.
Additionally, there is a significant disconnect between the subject of your story and the headline used to set the tone. As your story rightly indicates, this marketing agreement is part of a national effort Toyota has pursued with many municipalities (which your story incorrectly links Saint Paul to a 2005 document involving Des Moines).
However, your headline not only puts the focus solely and improperly on Saint Paul, but it establishes a dichotomy through the use of the word “jilt” that this was a conscious decision to choose between Ford and Toyota. Far from reality, this was an opportunity presented to us by Toyota.
Finally, to link the marketing deal to the closing of the Ford plant again paints a fictitious picture. Our office has a great relationship with Ford and has worked diligently to find realistic solutions for the site – including our constant advocacy for keeping the plant open and operating in Saint Paul.
As you know, there are many demands from residents for cities to provide the highest quality services at the lowest cost. Economics and state mandates have put massive pressure on cities to contain those costs, while the same factors have put greater demand on our services. Just as Ford has helped this community grow in the past, Toyota is stepping up to its responsibility as a corporate citizen and providing a partnership and tools for cities to meet citizen demands while containing those growing costs.
It takes many partners to make a democracy work, including responsible media. In an era when so many media voices have been silenced, our office has welcomed new outlets for people to learn about how their city works. However, poor editorializing without all the facts and failing to inform readers about the difference between factual reporting and editorializing doesn’t serve your readers, the subject of your stories, and your own interests well. The Minnesota Independent has an amazing opportunity to make an impact in the community, but higher standards are needed if it is to meet the civic demands required for active readers and citizens.
Deputy Communications Director
Office of Mayor Christopher B. Coleman
Chris Steller replies:
This began as a simple blog post based on a three-month-old press release that was made timely again by recently-renewed hopes that the St. Paul Ford plant may stay open longer. When the post grew to be more than that, I owed Mayor Coleman’s office another call for comment. I regret not doing so and I apologize for that.
The rest of the post I stand by. The main point of the post is that the City of Saint Paul is promoting a competitor to one of its biggest employers. Indeed, St. Paul is promoting vehicles produced out of town that are of the same type (pickup trucks) produced by workers in St. Paul.
Second, I wanted to highlight how the professed environmental purpose of the Toyota advertising program in St. Paul and Minneapolis parks doesn’t square with the actual agreements, which require that a non-hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Tundra, get marquee treatment at city events.
And last, this post is one of many in which the Minnesota Independent (and earlier, the Minnesota Monitor) has reported on corporate encroachment on public spaces, particular in parks.