Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Springfield City Council DOES Have Input on State and Federal Legislation

At least as long as they retain the service of state and federal lobbyist(s) and Council communicates with legislators

A lot of commentators at the News-Leader's Web site, including the editorial board of the News-Leader itself, are spending time today complaining about a discussion that took place at the City Council meeting on Monday.

The News-Leader editorial board complained that 40 minutes were spent on a topic of discussion that has little to do with Council responsibilities. Commentators chided Councilman Ibarra particularly, and the whole Council in general for wasting time. Most of the commentators are claiming the Council has no input on federal legislation.

This might be a good time to remind the public that the City Council has had paid lobbyists in the past, and may have paid lobbyists today who are tasked with lobbying state and federal governments. Every year the City Council updates and approves a list of your municipality's legislative priorities. The City Council has, and likely still is, using taxpayer funding to pay lobbyists to appeal to state and federal legislators regarding the interests of the City of Springfield, or at least its City officials.

It would be a fallacy to make the claim that our City Council doesn't have any input on state or federal legislation.

Apparently, the City's new legislative priority list for 2010 has not yet been added to the site map at the City's Web site. In 2009, the priority list was introduced, in part, with these words, "The following legislative priorities are established for the 2009 Session of the Missouri General Assembly: Environment and Quality of Life; Economic Development; Finance and Taxation; Municipal Administration and Intergovernmental Relations."

In 2009, I was present at the Finance and Administration Committee meeting when legislative priorities were first discussed. A reduction in the number of lobbyists Springfield retained, due to budget restraints, was also discussed and Springfield's City attorney Dan Wichmer, recommended Springfield not reduce them to zero. I can't remember for sure if Springfield retained one or two (and they called them both state and federal) lobbyists in 2009. I have inquired with the Springfield Public Information Office as to how many lobbyists the City of Springfield is retaining this year, if any. I will update this post when I receive the answer to that query.

In 2006 The Missouri Municipal League (MML) was listed as the client of 3 state lobbyists. In 2007, MML was listed as the client of 2 state lobbyists. The City of Springfield is a member of the Missouri Municipal League (see: National Institute on Money in State Politics). The MML is another way Missouri City Councils and/or City officials have sway over state legislators/legislation.


Springfield City Council: Playing Politics with Resolutions?

The moment will have passed by the time I will have a chance to do the topic justice but, let me just make a couple of points regarding current City events.

On Monday night, the Mayor pulled a resolution from the City Council agenda which would have alerted the public and state legislators that the City Council was opposed to the state version of the FairTax.

It isn't unprecedented for the Springfield City Council to pass such resolutions and it isn't unprecedented for the County Commission to join the City Council in a "joint resolution" but, that isn't the point.

I'm beginning to wonder if we do not have a resolution happy Mayor on our hands.

In a newspaper article today, I have read the Mayor is "drafting" a new resolution before the Council to "scold" A T & T for recovering the costs of a settlement made to the City of Springfield.

It wouldn't seem so ridiculous to me if I didn't believe that if the City had an opportunity to cite two state statutes which allowed the City the right to recover the cost of resurfacing City streets (for instance) through some "back door" tax (sic), the City wouldn't jump all over it. I firmly believe if the City could do it and say, "According to state statute we have a right and we are doing nothing wrong," they would add such a fee in a heart beat. And, ironically, the Mayor opposes A T & T (a corporation) reimbursing its costs while losing $63,000 in taxpayer funds due to the City's Council authorized choice to place the CIP sales tax renewal election on a June ballot rather than on the April ballot that was already scheduled.

Add to the above the fact that, when all is said and done, I can clearly discern a principle of the FairTax hidden in the article I read this morning exposing all this silliness. Corporations do not pay taxes, people pay taxes. So, the City taxes A T & T and A T & T, in turn, adds a fee to its customers' bills to recover the taxes with which the City has charged it. It's a very simple lesson and O'Neal, if he had thought it through, might have realized his opposition to what A T & T is doing draws him closer to the FairTax philosophy. Irony abounds.

In the meantime, how seriously should we take Springfield City Council resolutions in the future? Are the resolutions the Mayor is proposing representative of mere political preference or are they resolutions meant to champion a principle which is representative of the view of the constituents Council members are meant to represent? I hope Council resolutions don't end up meaning less because they are based on politics rather than principles and on personal preference rather than right and wrong. Perhaps we should call for a resolution to cease frivolous resolutions.


Monday, March 08, 2010

Municipal Government and Greene County Commission Combined Meeting Calendar: March 8 - March 12, 2010

Notes: Greene County Commission meetings are color coded blue, City meetings are color coded red. In the case of County meetings, all meetings are held at 933 N. Robberson unless otherwise noted.

Monday, 3/8/2010

7:30 AM - County - Reclaiming Futures - Location: Fountain Plaza Room, Cox, 1423 N. Jefferson, Springfield

8:00 AM - County - Administrative and Department Functions

8:30 AM - County - Administrative Meeting – Commissioners, Highway Administrator, et al - Location: 2065 N. Clifton, Springfield - Agenda: Driving tour of county roads and bridges

8:30 AM - City- Library Board Programs/Services/Technology Committee Library Center , 4653 South Campbell Contact: Debbie Eckert, (417) 883-5366

9:00 AM - County - Senior Citizens Services Fund Board

1:00 PM - County - Administrative and Department Functions

1:30 PM - County - Officeholders Meeting - Location: Historic Courthouse, Room 212, 940 Boonville, Springfield

4:30 PM - County - Greene County Historic Sites Board

6:30 PM - City - City Council Meeting Old City Hall, Council Chambers, 830 Boonville Contact: Brenda Cirtin, (417) 864-1650 (agenda)

Tuesday, 3/9/2010

8:00 AM - City - Library Board Buildings & Grounds Committee Kirkpatrick, Phillips, & Miller, CPA's , 2003 E. Sunshine Contact: Debbie Eckert, (417) 883-5366

8:00 AM - City - Workforce Council of Local Elected Officials Missouri Career Center , 1514 South Glenstone Contact: Karen Dowdy, (417) 887-4343

8:00 AM - County - Administrative and Department Functions

8:30 AM - County - Daily Briefing with County Administrator

9:00 AM - County - Board of Equalization - Location: Historic Courthouse, Room 113, 940 Boonville, Springfield

9:00 AM - City - Board of Equalization Greene County, Room 113, 940 North Boonville Contact: Richard Struckhoff, (417) 868-4055

9:30 AM- County - Board of Zoning Adjustment - Location: Historic Courthouse, Room 212, 940 Boonville, Springfield

12:00 PM - City - Cancelled - Council Lunch Contact: Brenda Cirtin, (417) 864-1650

1:00 PM - County - Administrative and Department Functions

1:30 PM - County - State-wide Storm Siren Drill

2:00 PM - City - Administrative Review Busch Municipal Building, Room 285, 840 Boonville Contact: Daniel Neal, (417) 864-1036

5:00 PM - City - Watershed Committee Watershed Offices , 320 North Main Contact: Loring Bullard, (417) 866-1127

5:30 PM - City - Sherman Avenue Project Area Committee Busch Municipal Building, 2nd Floor West Conf. Rm., 840 Boonville Contact: Marti Fewell, (417) 864-1039

6:00 PM - City - Mayor's Commission on Human Rights Busch Municipal Building, 1st Floor Conf. Rm, 840 Boonville Contact: Bob Hosmer, (417) 864-1834

Wednesday, 3/10/2010

8:00 AM - City - Downtown Springfield Community Improvement District Board of Directors Busch Municipal Building, 4th Floor Conf. Rm., 840 Boonville Contact: Barb Baker, (417) 831-6200

8:00 AM - County - Administrative and Department Functions

9:00 AM - County - Daily Briefing with County Administrator

1:00 PM - County - Administrative and Department Functions

6:00 PM - City - Police Fire Pension Fund Citizens Task Force Busch Municipal Building, 4th Floor Conf. Rm., 840 Boonville Contact: Sharon Smith, (417) 864-1004

6:00 PM - City - Springfield Police Officers' and Firefighters' Retirement System Board of Trustees Fire Station No.1 , 720 E. Grand Contact: Nikki White, (417) 569-6282

Thursday, 3/11/2010

8:00 AM - County - Administrative and Department Functions

8:30 AM - City - Springfield Police Officers' and Firefighters' Retirement System Board of Trustees Busch Municipal Building, 4th Floor Conf. Rm., 840 Boonville Contact: Nikki White, (417) 569-6282

9:00 AM - County - Daily Briefing with County Administrator

1:00 PM - County - Administrative and Department Functions

6:00 PM - City - Art Museum Board of Directors Art Museum , 1111 East Brookside Contact: Jerry Berger, (417) 837-5700

Friday, 3/12/2010

12:00 PM - City - Public Health Planning Committee - Healthy Lifestyles Subcommittee Doling Family Center , 1423 W. Atlantic Contact: Carmen Parker-Bradshaw, (417) 864-1573

12:15 PM - City - Public Health Planning Committee - Access to Health Subcommittee Doling Family Center , 1423 W. Atlantic Contact: Carmen Parker-Bradshaw, (417) 864-1573

Sources: City of Springfield and Greene County Public Information Offices (With reformatting)


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Springfield, We Have a Problem

Internal Auditor Position Should be Filled As Soon as Possible and Practical

If City Manager Greg Burris or City Clerk Brenda Cirtin announced today they would be retiring next week, how much time do you believe would pass before the City Council was discussing how they would go about filling the vacant positions?

Why does it seem the City Council's Internal Auditor position is and has been treated as though it is an unimportant, backburner issue? Because, I propose it has been.

I am fully aware that Ms. Lathrom's passing only occurred one week ago this evening, and I do not mean to sound callous but, I am aware that Ms. Lathrom had been on medical leave for many months prior to her passing, and the internal auditor position, although apparently not as *sexy* as the City Manager position, is an extremely important municipal government position.

I first started writing about the internal auditor position when I was still the City Council/City Government "beat writer" for the "Community Free Press." It's been obvious from the outset that the position simply is not valued in the same way the positions of City Manager and City Clerk are valued and yet, the internal auditor position is one of only three positions whose inhabitor answers directly to the City Council and who the City Council is tasked to hire and fire.

While today's Mayor and City Council look with ingenuity (sic) to a future appointment of a Citizens' Sales Tax Oversight Committee, I wonder when they will fill what I have advocated (in my own way) as a vitally important position within City government that has, in it's very short history, been consistently given only minimal thought and value. Such a position, if utilized properly would make a Citizens Sales Tax Oversight Committee a silly and unnecessary prospect.

Before Lathrom was hired, back in January, 2008, there didn't appear to be much consensus among City Council members as to the potential value of an internal auditor. Councilman Doug Burlison said, "This proposed position (internal auditor) is, in fact, the key to any reforms that City Council may enact in response to the audit." But, then Mayor Tom Carlson, in his State of the City Report, said about the position, "(State Auditors) talked about an internal auditor, and we're going to have one of those, and so, I hope everybody's happy, but it's not that big a deal." (Community Free Press Archive edition June 18, 2008, page 1 article, "City Manager vs. Internal Auditor")

Why is it important?

A March 4, "Springfield News-Leader" "Our Voice" editorial column pointed out the City will lose $63,000 in taxpayer money by holding the CIP tax renewal election in June rather than including it in a legally mandated, already existing, April election. The editorial also pointed out that by skipping over the mandated April, 2010 election and opting to put the measure on a June ballot, it will cost OTC an extra (estimated) $32,000 because they are on the ballot alone.

City leaders gave the "News-Leader" a few reasons for holding the election in June rather than April but, admitted they could have prepared for it and put it on the April ballot if they had chosen to do so. In other words, they could have saved the taxpayer and Ozarks Technical Community College about $95,000 in combined funds.

Apparently, Mayor O'Neal didn't know putting the CIP sales tax question on a June ballot was going to cost the City taxpayers $63,000 more than if they had scheduled it for the April ballot. That alone is, to borrow a phrase from KSGF's old radio talk show host Vincent David Jericho, asinine could the Mayor not know that!? Why wasn't he told!? Would an internal auditor have made a difference? I'd like to think so, IF that internal auditor was valued, with his or her services properly utilized.

I hate to keep repeating the same information but, people! In Section 2.15 of the City Charter it describes the "Investigator," or Council's internal auditor:

"The council may appoint an investigator who shall serve for such term as the council may prescribe. He shall be a certified public accountant or a person specially trained and experienced in governmental or business investigation or administration. His duty shall be to keep the council informed as to the work performed, methods, and financial affairs of the city. He shall not be responsible for the keeping of accounts. He shall make such investigations of the work of all departments of the city and such reports to the council as it shall require. He shall make such other investigations as the council may direct. He shall have access to all books and records of all departments of the city. If the council desires, he shall certify to the correctness of any or all financial reports before the same shall be regarded as official."

After April Lathrom was hired, she wrote her own Policies and Procedures. They were adopted by the City Council on November 10, 2008, (see Council Bill 2008-322/Special Ordinance number 25510) but, even as late as March of last year (2009), then Council candidate Nick Ibarra questioned the efficacy and transparency of the internal auditor's position, and also in March, 2009, Councilman Burlison said, "...we do not interact with April enough, however, that is an issue I'd rather attack with 4 or 5 fresh faces. I'm not suggesting that there is any kind of communication problem, I just feel like we are not doing enough of it. If I was April, I think I would want more contact with my bosses, as well."

Today, I heard from Chair of the Finance and Administration Committee Dan Chiles. The Finance and Administration Committee is the Council Committee that was tasked with oversight of the internal auditor. Chiles seems to still have a bit of appreciation for the position that no one, to date, other than the occupant of the position, has taken very seriously at all, that is if we judge by actions instead of words.

"We haven't talked about a replacement for April. There is a hiring freeze, but I will make the case to hire an internal auditor," Chiles wrote in an email response to my query. "We promised the voters we would create and fill that position, so that is what we should do."

I would suggest to the Springfield City Council that you consider the position not as merely something you promised the voters but, rather as an invaluable and essential asset that you cannot function well without. You wouldn't try to do your job without a City Manager. You wouldn't try to do your job without a City Clerk. Why do you undervalue the essential job of the internal auditor?

The internal auditor in Kansas City, Missouri is known as the "City Auditor." His name is Gary White and he has his own Web page.

"Our goal is to conduct audits that answer questions that matter to people outside of City Hall; that enable the city to reduce, avoid or recover costs; and to alert city officials to potential problems that could undermine the public’s trust in City government," the Web page boasts, among other things.

Just including and since November of 2009, KC's City Auditor has filed two audit reports and two survey memos on his Web site. The documents are available to the public and include: Resolution Tracking, This audit was conducted in order to determine whether city staff are implementing resolutions adopted by the City Council; E-Service Systems Security, This audit was conducted in order to determine the security of the City's e-service systems; Fiscal Year 2010 Second Quarter Citizen Satisfaction Survey Results, This memo reports the second quarter results of the Fiscal Year 2010 Citizen Satisfaction Survey and; Fiscal Year 2010 Third Quarter Citizen Satisfaction Survey Results, This memo reports the third quarter results of the Fiscal Year 2010 Citizen Satisfaction Survey.

The Springfield City Council, if it ever decides to take the "investigator" or internal auditor position seriously, will have an invaluable oversight tool for assessing the operations of Springfield City government but, on this account, I'm afraid their eyes will continue to be wide shut.