Statement by David Runkel

Statement by David Runkel, Budget Committee member, before Jan. 22 Forum on the mayor’s additional spending and tax recommendations.

I’m going to limit my remarks to, in the view of this veteran Citizens Budget Committee member, the flawed process which led to the proposal now pending before the Council.  I’ll leave it to others to discuss whether the spending and taxing proposals included in the mayor’s proposal have merit.

I’m raising the issue of process having learned from my experience in government and in business that better decisions come from following good process, and vice versa, bad process leads to bad decisions.

In this regard, the mayor’s proposal, which comes in the 7th month of a 24-month budget cycle, calls for adding more than $10 million in spending to the $252 million city budget.  Here are the key details.

  • One of his proposals would reverse a decision of the Citizens Budget Committee and the City Council to eliminate six city positions most of them unfilled. This was done to bring the budget into balance.
  • Additionally, the mayor proposes raising spending on items already included in the budget. None of these proposed increases were brought before the Budget Committee or the Council last spring.
  • New proposals to spend $2.1 million on solar and hundreds of thousands to repair the Lithia Park fountain have never been presented to or discussed by the Budget Committee.

While state law allows the City Council to adjust the budget after adoption there are limits on how much additional spending can be done outside the budget process.  The mayor would bypass these provisions of state law by putting forth the proposed bond issue.

My second concern is that this proposal to add $10 million in spending was not discussed in a public forum following state open meeting laws by the Council-approved revenue review ad hoc committee.  In fact, this committee was never constituted.  Instead he mayor invited a select group to meet behind closed doors, not including any citizen Budget Committee members.

The mayor certainly has the right to consult with anyone who chooses, but where does he get the authority to ignore the appointment of a panel which the Council voted 5 to 1 to create.

In contrast, a second Council ad hoc committee to review cost-savings proposals was duly established, has been meeting in public in public and has minutes available for city residents to review. It includes current and past members of the Citizens Budget Committee.  The normal process would be for the Council to have the opportunity to review cost cutting ideas before moving forward with new spending proposals.

I suggest the mayor’s spending proposal be set aside until the cost cutting proposals are put forth and in the meantime the Council-approved ad hoc revenue committee be established.  Its job would be to review the mayor’s proposal and other revenue-related ideas that come before it from Ashland residents and city staff.  Citizens Budget Committee members should be included as participants.

This is the process the Council endorsed.  Instead, as one high-ranking city government official told me, and this is a direct quote; “this whole presentation/idea was a train wreck:  ill-conceived, shoddy, disingenuous, pandering … a manipulative effort to offer something for every constituency.”

While it appears there is an urgency to put the mayor’s plan on the May ballot, if the views of city residents and voters are truly valued, why not wait until November when many more voters are likely to participate?

Thank you.

Statement by David Runkel