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Government agencies explain purchases of giveaway items

Published: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 9:16 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 11:09 p.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
The City of St. Charles gave away candy suckers to commemorate the ribbon cutting of Red Gate Bridge in 2012.

Visitors to the Kane County Coroner’s Office might see something they likely wouldn’t expect – plastic red eggs filled with Silly Putty.

The trinkets recently caused a stir at a County Board committee meeting. Chairman Chris Lauzen criticized Rob Russell for spending more than $1,000 on the items.

Russell, however, defended his purchase. The items, he said, were for community events, such as National Night Out.

“You’re giving back to the community,” he said. “You want to create a good impression by giving a little gift.”

While other governmental agencies might not give away Silly Putty, many agencies purchase other items – including shirts, coffee mugs, stickers, toy badges, flashlight pens and keychains – for public consumption, officials said.

The city of St. Charles, for example, celebrated the 2012 ribbon-cutting of a new water treatment facility with water bottles (total cost of $500); the 2011 groundbreaking of Red Gate Bridge with paper weights and keychains ($4,529.11); and the bridge’s 2012 opening with cookies and suckers ($1,105).

City Administrator Mark Koenen – who at the time of these milestones served as public works director – said such items are about celebration and being a good host.

“The trinket is a commemorative item that we believe people who take the time to participate in these activities appreciate,” he said.

“It’s also a way of saying thank you.”

In some cases, the giveaways can serve a dual purpose.

The 100 water bottles ordered for the water treatment facility not only promotes reuse, Koenen said, but it also encourages people to drink tap water.

Other public bodies – particularly police and fire agencies – said the items are given away for a reason.

“You try to be responsible with these items,” St. Charles Deputy Police Chief Dave Kintz said.

Kane County Undersheriff Pat Gengler said such trinkets as pencils, plastic badges and stickers are a fun way to engage kids officers might encounter.

The gifts also help police show children that they are the good guys and are approachable, he said.

“When they ask for things like that ... it helps us break that barrier,” Gengler said.

Similarly, each of the Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District’s vehicles carry a bin filled with materials – toy helmets, fire safety books, temporary tattoos and more – to hand out whenever the opportunity arises, Assistant Chief Tate Haley said.

In addition to reminding kids about fire safety – such as stop, drop and roll – he said the trinkets can help soothe a child whose parent requires medical attention. Haley didn’t know offhand how much the fire district spends on the materials, some of which are donated.

“It’s very minimal for the benefits you get out of it,” he said.

Campton Hills Police Chief Dan Hoffman said he is cognizant of how much is spent on giveaway items.

He recently ordered flashlight pens for such functions as the Campton Hills Safety Fair and National Night Out after getting a good deal on them.

“Whatever we can get for free, we try to take advantage of,” he said.

Promotional items also have a place in recruitment efforts.

Kintz said the St. Charles Police Department has given away personal-sized hand sanitizers at college job fairs as a way to draw people to its table. Because the bottles are marked with the department’s logo, he said, the recruits also walk away with something to remember it by.

For an office that deals with subject matter that can be difficult and gruesome, Russell said an egg of Silly Putty can help make the coroner’s office more approachable.

“It’s an icebreaker to get people to talk about this office and what we do,” he said.

Although Kane County is working to close a $2 million gap in its general fund budget for next year, the coroner said his Silly Putty spending won’t make or break a budget.

“It’s only one thing,” he said, “and it’s such a small part of the budget.”

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