Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dan Chiles: Conflict of Interest or Simple Budget Discussions?

Tomorrow, one thing that is on the slate at the City Council luncheon will be delivery of a draft prepared by Springfield City Attorney Dan Wichmer outlining what course of action could or should be made regarding an ethics question that was raised after comments made by City Councilman Dan Chiles regarding non-profit organizations and other issues during ongoing budget discussions.

Following is the transcript of his comments from that March 18 City Council luncheon that spawned the ethics questions, you be the judge whether these comments were a conflict or a part of ongoing budget discussions. Councilman Chiles is a board member of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks:

"Mayor, I was alarmed by the size of the cuts to the non-profits at our meeting last night. I think that, if we have to put some perspective on this, instead of just treating it like second class citizens and saying you're just a non-profit, we're going to take 50 percent of your budget, we ought to view them the way they view themselves.

These organizations actually attract money, like the Watershed Committee attracts $7 for every dollar we give them. Melissa Haddow testified that the wonderful work she does for the Community Partnership of the Ozarks. She attracts $17 for every dollar that we give her and to whack their budgets by 50 percent will mean people will lose their jobs and the integrity of some of these organizations will fail..."

(Mayor Carlson interjects: "Just to be clear, we're not whacking their budgets, we're whacking our contributions to their budgets, that's quite a bit different.")

"...but, I note that what we did, and I asked the clerk to look this up, on December 17 we had proceeds from the telecom settlement, we took $300,000 after we had made other payments and we, it looked like we weren't exactly sure what we could do with the $300,000, so we made an unscheduled pay raise to city employees and I'm not saying they're not worth it because city employees work hard and maybe we should have given them a pay raise, but the fact that three months later we find ourselves in the depths of a terrible budget crises, where that $300,000 would have been extremely useful to preserve exactly these non-profits that we're talking about here today makes me wonder. Where is the vision that three months ago should have recognized $300,000 would have come in handy? And today, we're in a budget crises ready to cut these organizations by 50 percent.

To me it's just alarming and I would propose an alternative that whatever it is that we cut city departments by, in total, whether it's 5 percent solution or 7 percent solution or whatever it is, we cut the non-profits by the same percentage. I'm not saying they shouldn't suffer it's just, I say everybody should suffer, but given their value....

Like we were just at the Watershed meeting the other day and if there is any priority for this community, and I know that police and fire is one, but so is water. We were told about a great pharmaceutical experiment that Americans are imposing on themselves which is, let's take a witch's brew of pharmaceuticals and let's add them into the water supply and let's give them to our children. Well, this is happening all across America and we need a better vision, a better understanding about how to protect ourselves against these things and whacking this budget at this time means that we're not setting two priorities so, not everything in that list of non-profit's is the same priority, I'll admit, but certainly a water supply is something we can't live for three days without so that's why I think we need a more systematic and more policy driven discussion of which one of these should suffer and which one of these should, maybe, be added to and I don't think we saw that last night and I recognize that the first take on this was just an overview, a suggestion, but I think now it's time, within this time limit that was just adopted, which is very short, to take a look at these community priorities and to say, these people are doing great work and attracting money that is leveraging what we give them with the volunteer support of all these boards and volunteers that work in these organizations and they are worth the expense.

So, it means we're going to have to find cuts in other places that we did not see last night and I would support that and I just mentioned a few off the top of my mind which came from the auditor's report, which was the 400 cars. Now, maybe we're addressing that, okay, but it does make you wonder and I think the citizens of Springfield need to know that was such an egregious example of cars only driven for a thousand miles a year that apparently are not of great use and I'd like to know that those kind of cuts, in addition to memberships and trips to meetings and whatever it is that normal businesses in tight financial times find ways to cut, if we can cut some of those things, maybe we can preserve some of the non-profits and I would support that.

And finally, I would say, and perhaps this is a question to your question of the process, but inside of Springfield, Missouri are people who know how to trim budgets, the most famous is Jack Stack with SRC, these people live lives on tight budgets and if we had the time and if we have the means we could impanel a volunteer group of people who could put together an outside view of this budget and I guarantee we'd be counting toilet paper in Springfield, Missouri and maybe that's what we need to do. We'd be looking and every single nut and bolt and dollar in this town and maybe that's what we need to do before we agree on a budget and so, before we do any more discussions of taking the legs out from under these non-profits, I would support an outside view, a volunteer citizen panel if they would agree to do it, no expense to the city, and see if we can't find additional cuts. Thanks."

---end March 18 comments---

"I think it falls in that category of setting priorities and deciding what we're going to do and all this ethics, conflict of interest stuff has really been a distraction, I think." - Councilman Dan Chiles, March 31, 2008


Anonymous said...

I move that Mr. Chiles Watershed comments be stricken from the City Record, and that the Council should be required to forget what he said.

If they voted on something, they would have to perform a "do-over/ re-vote" after they have had enough time to forget...

Busplunge said...

Councilman Chiles should resign from the Watershed Committee and continue to vote his conscience.
Then the powers that be could not claim conflict of interest.

I don't think being interested our government is conflicting.

Chestnut Expressway said...

Any internal Council investigations should be paid for ONLY from the profits of the local parking ramps.

They seem to be ready to spend 20 grand to investigate a 50 grand item.

tom said...

There is absolutely NO reason why these NOT for profits can't get funding from other avenues then the taxpayers. There are enough people serving on boards of these groups that they should seek corporate sponsorship programs from our large employers in this area to help offset the amount of money the city is forking out.

I really don't see a conflict of interest since Mr Chiles is NOT benefiting in any manner from his Watershed appointment and the position on council. This is one of the most idiotic things I've heard all year, but I'm sure that will change before '08 is over.

Busplunge said...

Tom, one of the things I learned in media relations school is to fight the battles you can win. The city is choosing to fight Chiles over his non profit position. This argument will deflect interest from the real problem: a lack of oversight by City Council and mis0management by upper level staff. It is much each to fight Chiles than fight the real enemy.
Dang, I was going to quit doing this.

chestnut expressway said...

Could Mr. Chiles resign his volunteer position from the Watershed Committee and then become simply a "concerned citizen" on the Watershed Committee?

He could still attend Watershed meetings and be concerned.

We need to work on improving the driving habits of some of our Council and also make sure they are not caught in Parks with strange women.

Jacke M. said...

"...and also make sure they are not caught in Parks with strange women."

I'd need to know you're definition of "strange." ;)

chestnut expressway said...

I would guess if you were supposed to be a part of a Mr. & Mrs. and were caught with a non/Mrs. this would be considered strange. :)

This would require a full public investigation of course....

Anonymous said...

Did I understand correctly that Chiles was the hand picked heir apparent for a city council seat by the council intself..? (Yes, I know the voters ratified the decision.)

At any rate, looks like Chiles has been asking too many questions. He's being targeted by the city.

Still, stunning that he should be put in the crosshairs of our city council for conflict of interest. Uh, he doesn't benefit from his watershed position, right? So the problem escapes me.

Meanwhile, we've got Mary Collette, on council and poised to directly benefit from the Commercial Street plans.

What is the difference between Mary Collette and Dan Chiles?

Collette the crony is personally, professionally and financially benefitting from being on both council and commercial street.

Chiles is reaping the headaches of trying to lead this city in the right direction.

It's obvious we need more like Chiles and fewer like Collette on city council.