Former City Councilman and Legislative Assistant Tom White joins fiscal scrutineer John Marshall Lee in a walk down memory lane about the city’s evolving financial oversight as written testimony to the city’s legislative branch.
From White and Lee:
1988–The roots of the process today are found in Charter revisions approved in referendum that year.
Previously budget oversight of both operating and capital matters was handled by members of an appointed Board of Apportionment and Taxation (BAT) and Mayor’s Financial Advisory Board (FAB). The power and responsibility of oversight moved to the City Council, but where is there any formal sign from committee assignment, annual responsibility or reporting that oversight is alive and active?
An Office of Policy Management was created to mirror that of the State of CT. It has a comprehensive mission focusing on fiscal and operational planning and control. (See Mission Statement in 2021 Proposed Budget, p. 133)
In 1988 there was an expectation that elected officials are to be held accountable for their actions and decisions and that OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE,TRANSPARENT and HONEST governance would result from this oversight of the City Council.
The early years of the new charter followed a roadmap provided by MAC and FRB.
Review of Department goals and operating budgets focused on measurements of effectiveness and efficiency, using recommendations from MAC, the outside and intrusive oversight of the FRB and performance management overseen by OPM.
1992 Charter revision again, codified some recommendations made by FRB such as a regular monthly financial report (formally reviewed by the FRB) and subject to a monthly review by CC Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Some see a period of unlearning fiscal wisdom and process and lessening responsibility for formal or informal oversight Council responsibilities. Perhaps 100 different citizens have served a two-year term or greater on the Council and the history and responsibility or tradition has grown very weak and makes the City vulnerable to waste, the rule of status quo, last minute solutions with little or no preparation to “last-minute problems.”
The City Council was authorized by 1992 Charter to create an Office of Legislative Services as a City Department to provide research assistance and continuity to CC with a staff member and annual operating budget. A Civil Service position was created and staffed but was subsequently eliminated at the 11th hour of budget FY2013 discussions at the advice of a Council President and City employee who indicated a savings would result. The Council lost some strength from being somewhat independent of developing alternative understandings. There were no savings to City taxpayers plus a loss of research capacity by the Council.
There have been a handful of capable, experienced and/or committed citizens who have run for and served on the Council in the past 30 years. They have attempted to share their skills and understanding though many have lasted only one or two terms before conceding to an overwhelming futility in attempting to practice genuine oversight.
In an elected body of 20 citizens with one or several of those families getting a City check or responding to party political direction in a one party town, it has been difficult to restore a spirit and process of independent planning, operating, funding and evaluating City decision making and results.
Where does regular oversight action and reporting of legislative oversight activity and fiscal review performed by the City Council show up for the taxpaying and voting public to understand? What is the routine data flow of City activity that is monitored by the City Council? Where is evidence of action available in print? Time will tell.
To the memory and spirit of Andrew Fardy
Thomas White, former City Council member and Legislative Assistant.
John Marshall Lee