Prior to the City Council Monday night adopting a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, city fiscal hawk John Marshall Lee addressed the legislative body wondering about their attention span on a number of issues.
What holds you to crafting a budget that the public can trust and fully support? Is it dedication to the Charter or Ordinances? Do you have enough time to learn about city operations and funding during 30-40 days per year? What happens to the lists of items discovered in that time and set aside for further study? Could it be that the fiscal story you are told year in and year out by the administration (plus more importantly the stories you have not been told with real backup numbers showing actual fiscal results) equals the real story?
Do you ask for credible help in the form of fiscal talent who can provide attentive oversight, month in and month out, observe best practices from other communities and do research for our City? If the limited assistance paid for with our dollars for the past three years are not adequate in quality or quantity, there is not one taxpayer I know who would object to your hiring one or more such tasked individuals full time to make your pursuit of fairness and equity for taxpayer citizens and public services equal in value, something to be proud of. Show the value of putting operations and finances in a spotlight.
Have you allowed your working conditions in the big picture to become unbalanced? Many of you spend the majority of your stipends on business expenses for attending meetings on better municipal practices. What happens then? The expenses are paid, but what did the taxpayer receive by paying your “business expenses” through a stipend that is neither open nor transparent to all? Are you accountable and honest about the stipends? More than $100,000 annually is spent on transportation, hotels, meals and registrations; of what value to the community?
Mayor Ganim has been Mayor for more than 15 years. Recent budgets show his actual priorities. They are what he presents to you. Funds for operating the public education system are not part of his plans for future economic development of the City or of meeting current needs. Instead this year, knowing the temper of the community for the massive tax increase three years ago, he offers a slight tax decrease, which you have further reduced. Please stop and consider that a tax decrease is an indication that the City is showing surpluses at year end because of a high mil rate. The City has enjoyed a “profit” from its budgets that have allowed lots of political appointments without accountability for fiscal results, and continuing long term pension and bond funding issues. So in an election year Ganim has “found some taxpayer money” that it can “return to taxpayers.” But nothing additional for the school age youth? Insulting? Political gamesmanship? And puts the question in your lap to resolve.
What about use of consultants by a Mayor with 15 years of operational experience?? Where is Joseph Jaffe hired by Guidepost Solutions in mid February nearly three months ago in his “review of city policies and procedures?” (I wrote to him on February 20 and am still awaiting a response.) I would direct him to City Print Shop to see why there is no recorded revenue at all but cash and checks come in. Why have Service Indicators of past years decreased (think of email and other technology advances) yet expenses continued to increase? And there are private clients served (at an increased expense? But those revenues are not shown). At the end of the day who can prove that the work accomplished is worth the nearly $750,000 requested and spent in recent years? Need another consultant?
Formats like Open Checkbook do not allow you to see where Capital funds are spent. Why not? The taxpayer must pay principal and interest on City borrowed funds each year. And yet cannot see how much money is left in each capital account and access how far the project has proceeded. Is this OPEN by any definition?
200,000 bulbs were planted last fall at what expense and by whom in time to show this spring? Beauty for weeks and to be remembered, but how many pre-school youth will not learn their alphabet, as a trade-off for creating a 2019 political memory?
Last week revealed that $10 Million of unpaid parking fines for the past seven years continues. $1.5 M worth of annual scofflaws? The solution is to recognize the problems earlier in a year and deal with them, perhaps at your next conference attendance. Write off the problems! Ring in solutions. Is it Finch or Ricci’s fault? Will the Teflon endure? Time will tell.