Fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee, a relentless pursuer of how the public’s money is spent, raises a question: why do city financial reports lag? See his commentary below:
Full-time elected Senators and Representatives have experience passing forward genuine fiscal problems without addressing solutions to balance and the US faces a fiscal cliff as the players pose. Trillions in values of legislated benefits, government policy supported market prices, and tax payment trends are unresolved and causing world-wide anxiety. Lots of experts from all parties, think tanks and sources weigh in on the voluminous data to make sense of it for the taxpayer/voter. President Obama, the leader of the free world, calls on legislators for real solutions to these long-term problems.
Part-time elected Senators and Representatives in our State have been alerted several times recently to our Connecticut plight of expenses in our budget too great for the money raised through taxes, fees and other levies. Billions in promised employee benefits and current services are at risk where there has been no net gain in private employment jobs in 25 years. We have numerous economists and State media specialists tracking the big trends and reporting a story to the public. We also are the only state to have what amounts to two sets of internal auditors, Democratic and Republican. Who can you really trust? Governor Malloy calls for a bi-partisan effort.
And only in Bridgeport do we have 20 legislators who are unpaid. (But have a mostly secret stipend arrangement, worth up to $9,000 annually they do not want to share with the local taxpayers. They budget $180,000 annually, spent $114,000 per OPM on stipends in 2011-12, but have less than 50% confirmation from purchasing records. And the $66,000 not used for stipends got spent too, but where?) The City Council delegates responsibilities to committees and staffs them with 7 members. Financial work is directed to the Budget & Appropriations Committee (B&A). The City has no internal auditor to assist and the City Council eliminated in May, 2012 all support personnel (one position filled and one vacant for years, a “ghost position.”) Hundreds of millions of CC approved projects, benefits, and programs from past years face us this year and into the future, with minimal rainy day funds, economic development efforts dragging, and little or no comment from year to year on whether we are running balanced budgets and fiscal trends.
I can’t shine much new light on global issues but here in the City let me spotlight some issues that cause me some serious concern. Our seven “fiscal watchdogs” in the CC have had monthly meetings (despite cancellations and re-scheduling) since July 1, 2012, our current fiscal year. Minutes for four of the five meetings held are available on the City site. No explanation on unavailable minutes for the Oct 24 Special Meeting or the web lockout for the September re-convening on 9-17 is provided. Also lacking are any exhibits provided by City speakers to B&A. They are logged in the minutes but not made available electronically with the minutes on internet search. Is this open, transparent or helpful to public accountability?
Neither the City Finance Director nor the Office of Policy Management director has bothered to explain why their regular fiscal information flow, called for by the City Charter, continues to lag and ultimately fail in its purpose! As of Friday December 7, 2012, the City Council had received a July and an August, 2012 monthly financial report. That is the extent of Finch administration reporting.
The Charter directs the monthly reports to be made available by the fourth Friday of a following month. Where is September? Where is October? And how did November go?
You push a button when a month is closed. It shows revenues recorded (hopefully with accuracy). It shows expenses for the month (assumed to be recorded with the correct City codes in the appropriate City departmental budgets). It shows variances by year and month to date, according to the latest available from Finance Director Anne Kelly-Lenz. If it fails to have a narrative commentary on revenues or expenses, it still is a starting point.
At all levels, those in public office and service look for a scapegoat of the moment regarding financial issues. Mayor William Finch cannot blame the City Council at this moment for the state of City affairs when he does not deliver the information to them. We, the voters, can hold them responsible and accountable for failing to perform anything resembling regular fiscal analysis. And we can also ask them why other larger CT towns and cities have legislative support positions and this Council decided they are not necessary. It’s an election year. It’s a property revaluation year. There are people paying serious attention to the money issues. Time will tell.