City stipends, debit cards, city ordinances … city fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee reminded City Council members Monday night about their responsibilities to taxpayers. His comments follow:
Ordinance–Stipends are considered reimbursements for expenses incurred while pursuing your duties … The big picture as you approved budget items this year …
• 50% of Stipend funds in past two years have not been spent by the 20 Council persons …
• And during the past few years less than 10% of Other Services line item has been spent, legally or illegally by the Council members …
• That has left you with some $150,000 as potential reductions to save taxpayers tax payments and you have failed to do so. Why?
• Just about 100% of revenues that the City has received have been spent by this administration … so your failure to trim your line items shows your wonderful cooperation with the administration … rather than with your fellow taxpayers.
Do you find those troublesome words? Are they harsh on your ears? I am sorry but things are not as easy in many homes or businesses as they are in City Hall obviously. When a question is asked of me in my business, I must supply an answer. A handful of you have on occasion come forward to ask a question of me. That is good. I know there is some listening going on. But as for the rest of you, when the curtain comes down, as it is likely to do, there is no place for you to hide. What do I mean by that?
Ordinance update … Do any of you realize on September 25, 2012 #22-11 Proposed Amendments to the Municipal Code of Ordinances, Chapter 2.06 Common Council, amend Section 2.06.040 Reimbursement of Council Member’s Expenses (stipends) was addressed? Council Member Curwen moved to Table. Council President McCarthy seconded and the motion passed unanimously. Ordinance members present to vote were Paoletto, Marty McCarthy, Curwen, Bonney, and Blunt. The last four are no longer part of the Council. Non-Ordinance members in attendance were Brannelly and Council President McCarthy. In addition past members de Para and Olson were present.
So the matter has been TABLED for nearly two years.
• While a new UNAUTHORIZED system is in place.
• With Debit cards that provide funds before they are expended
• And a reporting system that does not require a statement of purpose for the expenditure by the Council member
• And the newer system does not integrate expenditures for travel, hotel, meals away from home, etc. on trips to municipal meetings.
• And the system seems to therefore be treating all expenses as non-taxable whereas that was not the conclusion of previous operating legal opinion
• And individual Council persons have exceeded the $9,000 ceiling in recent years although that could not happen in a healthy reimbursement program
• And the past Council member who moved to table 22-11 twenty months ago left the Council with over $2,000 owed to the program from such an overage. Has it been returned?
• Do you care about voter funds at all?
And a close look at more than one set of reimbursements over a year provide no reasonable assurance that such stipend provided by a debit card transaction is reimbursing a Council expense. A debit card user signs an acknowledgement that funds cannot be used for charitable or political purpose, but your report does not make it obvious that it is not for personal use either. Why not? Will you clean up this poorly operating mechanism? Whether you are using this or not personally, the public needs to be clear that Council behavior is OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT. Step up and put the item on the Ordinance Committee agenda and eliminate my comments about your negative behavior in taking care of business. Someone may have already referred this to the IRS. The Feds have much more authority, power and interest in securing every last tax dollar that is due than I do. Clean up your act, please, and do so quickly. Time will tell.