A long line of speakers at Monday night’s City Council meeting forced fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee to the sidelines. Here’s what councilors missed:
KISS–Keep it Seriously Simple
It’s all about money, right? Money for teachers, for resources, and for new schools. Money for street paving, sewer improvements, and economic development, ultimately. Show me the money! Who’s got the money? And ain’t we got fun? But are you, those who are running for office, having fun? So let’s talk about the two flows of money: revenues you spend on budgets that you review and approve and appropriations of “other people’s money.”
And if you are on the receiving end of revenues even if they are small, as some believe your stipends are, it’s still better than nothing. Thanks to those five people who have talked stipends with me, why don’t we know where all the money is spent or the figures of how much is spent? I have been told President McCarthy says the stipend records are open. I have not found that to be true. I am asking Tom McCarthy to cut through the red tape of FOI letters and patient waiting. Is the info open to the public or not, Tom?
Now if the dollars come in without taxes due, even better. And that is the point I was making in the Sunday OP-Ed piece about Bridgeport youth in public schools. From Kindergarten to senior year in high school, the public taxpayer will spend $225,000 or more to educate the youth. No 1099 is sent to the family and no taxes are due. That’s a good deal. And if the youth has done well in the system, more money is available through charitable desires of people who have done well and pay big taxes that can be reduced by targeted generosity. That is happening with Bridgeport students currently and there is more money coming. Go ahead, work the system! Don’t ignore it. Go out and get the best education available to you and don’t look back (except to say thank you, taxpayers) until you are out, in work of your own choosing and paying your way. Pay it forward. Pave the way for others.
So what will you be doing, City Council, about getting Bridgeport administration on board with the “minimum budget requirement?” Which one of you has asked OPM, Finance Director or the Mayor how they will find the necessary $3.3 Million additional? The election is in four weeks. The children are those of your constituents. Can they hear you on this issue? Where do you stand?
Taxes have increased for two years because after all your negotiations you couldn’t find a way to cut more than you did. Two years ago, we pointed out “ghost expenses” so you knew about more than $4 Million of vacant positions. But you kept quiet and approved the ghosts. Three months later most of those vacancies were eliminated. Because monthly reports are late, at best, you did not know this formally until December 2012, and that subject was never discussed. Why not? Where was the money spent? Do you know? And if you don’t know, why not? And if it is because you can’t read the reports, when will you demand a narrative you can understand? The City Charter states: “The City Council may require that additional information be included in such (monthly revenue, appropriations and variance) report.” Why do you stay muzzled? If you think that is a profile in courage, put it on your campaign material, please. Have you reviewed the 12th month report with the Finance Director? According to her, she does not think that a final, rather than a draft report, is desired by you. Simple enough?
Can you imagine your property-owning tax-paying voters being so cavalier with their own funds? Trust, of course. But verify, right? And that is your job here on the Council. You let the Internal Audit position be eliminated without comment or blinking. You have allowed yourself to eliminate any assistance to your legislative duties. You cancel meetings for failure to have a quorum. You have left most of $90,000 annual Other Expenses item that is part of your Legislative Budget unspent at year end for want of anyone indicating how it might be spent to help you do the job of monitoring, overseeing, verifying what is happening to City money … taxpayer money.
And the values of homes have decreased for most people between 2008 and 2013. And the October 1, 2008 values will soon be in use for the next five years. And the City owns more property today than five years ago. Is that good? And the Net Grand List of taxable property is not growing, but each year the budget has. How about City debt and long-term obligations? What has the CC done in the past few years to turn these trends around? Anything there to campaign on?
Am I keeping things simple enough? Have you heard all of this before? Can you understand what the public was saying on September 10? The public has a great example from Washington of citizen representatives who have forgotten the reason they have been elected. They are not representing the ongoing public good. Not the public perfect in alignment with an ideology but the simple “public good.” Taxes go up. Money gets spent and even the legislators do not get timely or accurate reports. Stipends are secret (or they are not). You get adequate info on which to form good long-term decisions, (or you do not). Have you used your last 23 months well? It’s simple. Soon, time will tell.