City Hall’s $1K Chairs, Take Two

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Two months ago, I wrote about the new city hall building that, according to a report in the OC Register, was “furnished with high-end furniture and fixtures, including 204 leather Herman Miller chairs designed by modernist designers Charles and Ray Eames, at a cost of $1,073 each, according to city invoices.”

I was so surprised by the $1,073 chairs that I asked city officials for copies of these invoices. In my meeting with City Manager Dave Kiff in late May 2014, he promised to get them to me. Tara Finnegan also promised to get them to me. As of the publication deadline for this article more than two months later, I have not received copies of these invoices.

When I spoke to Steve Badum, the Assistant City Manager and project manager for the construction of the new city hall he said he said that the $1,073 cost might be accurate for Herman Miller conference chairs but that he couldn’t verify it without reviewing the invoices. Badum justified the expenses of the city hall by stating that the city used a “Value Engineering Process.”

He added that the budget for Furniture, Fixture and Equipment (FFE) was under two percent of the cost of the city hall project, which he said is good. Critics of the city hall project counter that the FFE was less than two percent because the building cost so much.

Badum said they wanted furniture in public areas of the city hall that was cost effective, durable and not lavish or extravagant. He also mentioned that the government buyers get discounts and don’t pay retail prices.

$1,073 for a chair seems excessive to me, as I complained in that article two months ago.

So for the last couple months I have been curious about what private sector organizations spend on conference room chairs. I asked business executives and lawyers with prominent law firms. One law firm partner told me his firm spent $150-$200 per chair in his firm’s “best” conference room. Another business owner told me he spent a similar amount for his conference room chairs that seat CEO’s of companies with tens of millions of dollars of revenue per year.

I had a hard time getting anybody to admit spending more than $200 on a conference room chair. One architect told me that it was possible to design in a $1,073 chair, but that you’d have to really try to do it. An executive that had sustained a back injury with subsequent back surgeries said he might buy a specialty chair for himself because of his unique medical condition, but not for common area use. It seemed reasonable to me that the city not spend more on conference room chairs than those private sector firms.

After these executives told me about their conference room chair costs, I asked them what they thought a city like Newport Beach might pay for conference room chairs. They each speculated that the city would pay what they paid ($200 or less). When I told them that $1,073 was spent on over 200 chairs, none of them could believe it.

The federal government is trillions of dollars in debt. California is deeply in debt. The city of Newport Beach issued certificates of participation that will result in the city paying about $100 million extra for the city hall project than if they paid cash. Unfunded pension liabilities are on top of these figures.

We need public officials to think about our children and grandchildren having to pay back public debt. Government at all levels needs to go on a spending diet. $1,073 chairs can’t be on the menu anymore. Business as usual won’t work in this debt environment. Government needs to change its spending habits to become cheap, just like the taxpayers struggling to pay for big government that spends too much money.



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  1. Wow, I ride a Herman Miller at my workstation at home, I have lower back problems and this chair is a plus, maybe it will cut down on the city healthcare costs. So what happened to the “old” furniture at the old city hall location? How long do these chairs last? The budget for furniture must have included high end designed chairs or it wouldn’t have been in the budget, right? Im sure you got the “backbay two-step” for a good reason, protecting somebody’s rear-end, you know I noticed the quality of the chairs in the council hall forus folks, the plywood is top-notch! like quality you’d see on a custom yacht built in Finland. I say get rid of the bronze plaques that embellish nothing more than pure wasteful opulent spending.

  2. The chairs match the $700.00 shoes those folks like to wear to the meetings. I would not be too hard on them … maybe they could buy the custom bum fitted chairs from the city when the big spenders are voted out…..

  3. I am a critic of government over spending myself, but would like to point out that spending a thousand dollars on a quality executive chair is reasonable to many and comparable to any private sector office. While any office can be furnished by cheap disposable furniture should they be ??

    Put one way, a $200 chair is only going to last a few years all the while it will deteriorate and look worse. A herman miller eames office chair will come with a 12 year – 3 shift 100% warranty. The three shift per day recognizes the chair can be sat on 24 hours per day by shift workers. That is a lot of use for one chair that will still look the same after 12 years. When and if the chair comes to the end of it’s life it is then 95% recyclable. Most herman miller products have been in production for many decades and will always offer replacement parts and service.

    For a conference chair that is probably not sat on 24 hours per day, lets say it lasts 20 years. The $200 chair has been replaced at least once per 5 years if it was actually being used, so you have an easy $800 over the years for the $200 chair or a thousand for a $250 chair. You then have had to dispose of these chairs that I would be sure would not be as recyclable.

    I think this is a case of pick your battles. You can find many sources to support you and be aghast at this spending, but I assure you these chairs have a very robust market for the workplace and are more common as purchasers look for quality over time.

    Should you want to do more research and price check, just go to the herman miller website, look up the version of eames chair. You will probably see if listed above the price you were given if your city hall did get a discount from the place they bought these. Look up pros and cons of these chairs versus other cheap chairs. You will find hours of reading on people debating chairs, some even with some valid points.


  4. Keep at it Kurt! The stunning arrogance of purchasing 200, one thousand dollar chairs is only matched by the price of that hideous City Hall.

    Why haven’t your request to see invoices been fulfilled? Where did they purchase the chairs? This needs to resolved.