Citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee Tuesday night addressed the City Council with a focus on Police Department spending. From Lee:
This is the second meeting of the year and the fourth of the session that began in December. One year ago information was leaking out of City Hall about the dire financial situation in the City. As the incoming Council with a “second chance” Mayor newly installed it may have been a confusing time. It should have been a time to prioritize our problems and summon all of our resources.
Six months later, you faced angry taxpayers and voters because of the budget you passed simultaneous with a revaluation that lowered owner values in most of the City. Anger over increase in taxes? Frustration over property values dropping below mortgage balances? Many folks plainly disturbed that the school budget request for $15 Million was not dealt with.
The new administration scoured City cupboards for funds of all kinds. Perhaps that is why your Budget & Appropriations Committee was able to view two different reports last week … one regarding grants that fund certain City activities and may still have power even though they may be 10 years old, and another that identifies capital projects by department and provides multi-year accounting never seen routinely by the Council.
Governance is a shared responsibility. The Council cannot be accountable when they do not receive information. But they are responsible when they do not request, multiple times if necessary, vital information regarding City finances in order to be skilled watchdogs. I have observed that you of necessity are fiscal watchdogs because as the State’s largest City we are without a bi-partisan Board of Finance, which based on education, experience, and integrity, can be a competent and sensible first line of check and balance with any administration.
Our time is limited so take the Police Department as an example. You approved a budget for $102 Million and before we were many months into the fall that budget increased more than 5%. Did it tell you where the PD would be if 100 new recruits were hired (something impossible within the Fiscal Year)? Or did it say something else that perhaps you know but that the public does not?
We have an Acting Police Chief, a former Police Chief as a consultant, and former Chief Gaudett at EOS. Personally I don’t know whether he was acting or a complete chief. However, what I continue to see is a PD budget that is nearing $110 Million with total overtime, internal and external, seemingly out of control. But there is a struggle to look good in the press.
One of the ten divisions of the Police Department budget called Police Administration, has no full-time employees!!! So where are Police Administrators hiding? Or at least where can they be identified? And what is the current number of personnel in each section today, and next month, and three months from now? Where are those numbers? And where is the listing of City employees showing the top 150 earners for 2016? And what would a list of the most recent 150 retirees from the Police Department reveal in terms of the last contract signed by the City with the Police Union? Did we ever hear that the movement of City pensions to the CT MERS plan would allow retirement income to be paid on overtime earning in as few as three years of the 25 for normal retirement? Did we learn that the City is prohibited any increase in charges to outside contractors currently to cover the new and added required pension contributions, so the taxpayers must foot all of the increased pension payments?
Are there other surprises in the changes for the 2012-16 period that we have not learned yet? What is the City position on new contract negotiations at this time? Is it a Mayoral priority? Where are such issues discussed in your committee system?
Do you require more info? Ask for it, please. Folks in my neighborhood, some who are expert in finance, personnel management, and system change last August volunteered their time as a practical short-term task force to help the Mayor with such matters. The Mayor and his advisors discussed but ultimately ignored this valuable offer without response to those taxpayers and voters. The Mayor’s veto did not get a single line in the newspaper but it was yet another sign that the City is not serious about dealing with the difficulties of the status quo. Is it time to bring back the red boots? I will wait for the CAFR that should be out in days. Then we can all study what happened last year through the eyes of the auditors. Time will tell.