The choice may seem a little odd for a city that once covertly hired an exterminator to take out the squirrels at Bedwell Bayfront Park, but Menlo Park now has a new official mascot: "Nutty the Squirrel."
The theory is that the costumed character may induce more participants to join the city's already popular community programs, some of which, like gymnastics classes, have waiting lists.
Nutty cavorted at the city's tree-lighting ceremony in December. Community Services Director Cherise Brandell said that creating a mascot had been on the department's "to do" list for several years before being finalized at a team meeting several months ago.
"That same group approved the purchase as an additional way to build (a) sense of community and draw families and children into our programs," she said in an email. Children participating in the city's after-school programs chose the mascot's name, according to Ms. Brandell.
The costume, ordered from MaskUs.com, cost $1,846, including a pack to adapt it for hot weather, a tote bag and shipping.
It caused a bit of a kerfuffle, according to internal staff emails obtained through a public records act request, when it seemed the bill would be split among programs within the department at $246 each.
"This seems like a large amount for programs that will not use the mascot service or who have tight budgets. Should we have a discussion regarding who will actually use the 'costume' and how billing of the person inside the suit works?" a Menlo Children's Center supervisor asked.
A manager with the recreation program said, "I really don't see us using it, but am willing to chip in some to pay for it if that is what we need to do. Although I can think of other things I can use the money towards, too! Whatever is decided, we will go with it."
A gymnastics supervisor commented, "At this point, I don't really see any times that we would use Nutty. Unless we are doing something in conjunction with a special event."
In response, Community Services Manager Derek Schweigart wrote that the cost had been divided between the special events budget and funds for the city's current re-branding efforts, describing Nutty as a marketing expense that would benefit the entire department.
"Most of us operate various special events and other functions where we could possibly see Nutty making an appearance. It might be difficult now to see where Nutty may add value or help to promote our department, but there is much potential," Mr. Schweigart wrote.
Paying a staff member to don the costume and frolic at the tree lighting cost $17, billed to the special events budget, according to the city's records.
Menlo Park, known for cutting edge technological industry, is now leading the charge with Nutty the Squirrel as well, compared with other Peninsula cities both smaller and larger, including Palo Alto, Foster City, Redwood City and Burlingame: Officials in those cities, bemused by the Almanac's inquiry, said that their towns did not have official mascots, but did have logos.