Bigger, and Better, Emeryville Finance Committee

September 12, 2011
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I recently attended my first meeting of the Finance Committee as a resident member and came away with positive impressions.  The Committee now has an expanded cadre: two city councilors, two business representatives, and two resident members.  By the time we next meet, a representative of the labor community in Emeryville will be added.  This is a striking improvement over its previous incarnation when just two city councilors served. Staff support for the Committee, led by Karen Reid, City Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, came informed and responsive to the queries of members.  City Manager Patrick O’Keeffe and Assistant City Manager Dolores Turner also attend the Committee’s meetings.

For citizens interested in how the city fares financially, the quarterly meetings of the Committee are a great place to get answers.  I found Reid’s “City of Emeryville Quarterly Financial Report: Fourth Quarter 2010-11, as at June 30, 2011″ especially useful, with its comparative data between this year and last. (Look for it on the City’s website.)

Given the shaky state of the national, state, and local economies, the Committee spent most of its time looking at ways to keep tax revenues in town and to manage our investments expertly.  A comment from Mayor Nora Davis, who chairs the committee, sticks in my mind: “We must leave no stone unturned.”  Indeed, and I get the impression from listening to members of the Committee, we won’t.  Any negatives?  Not really, but I’d like to know more about the city’s bonded indebtedness through its Redevelopment Agency operations and the annual cost of financing it, but my impression is all I need to do is ask.  And so I shall.

(To comment on this story or to read the comments of others, click on the headline to go to the story page, then scroll to the bottom.)

4 Responses to Bigger, and Better, Emeryville Finance Committee

  1. Michael Webber on September 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Bill, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for your public service.

    I sent an email to Pat O’Keefe about some basic, big picture budget issues and will cut and paste it below – can you help with any of my questions?

    ___________ my email to O’Keefe

    At the labor council meeting, I heard that the city had been projecting a deficit but ended up with a $2 million surplus – a true surplus, not counting any “rainy day” funds.

    Can you please help me –

    1. What was the City budget for 2008 (I assume the budge runs calendar year, but if it doesn’t, I’d like both years that “frame” 2008)?

    2. 2009?

    3. 2010?

    4. 2011?

    5. 2012 (if we have it)?

    What were the variance for each year – were we under or over budget for each time frame?

    and,

    How often do you track variances – monthly, quarterly, or yearly? I ask this because the union claims they were kept in the dark, that during their MOU negotiations they were told the City was facing a deficit when it had a $2 million surplus.

    How often do you REPORT variances, and where do you publish them?

    How do divide staff in Emeryville? My main focus is on staff at city hall, not police or fire, and on staff at ECDC.

    i. What were city and ECDC staff levels in 2008?

    ii. 2009?

    iii. 2010?

    iv. 2011 (actual and projected)?

    v. 2012 (projected)?

    With respect to new hires, how many for each year and what was the breakdown between replacement for departing employees and adding new functions?

    With respect to departures, how many for each year, and how do they break down by retirement (able to draw benefits), firing, lay-off (or reduction in force etc.), new job, no longer working but not retired?

    Realize some of this may take a bit of time to put together, but I want to be accurate in preparing my positions and in understanding these fundamental budget and personnel questions. I am concerned that we were laying off employees on grounds there wasn’t money to pay them. Or did we realize a healthy surplus – perhaps too healthy – on the backs of lay offs? Attrition is one thing, lay offs concern me.

    Thanks Pat, I appreciate your assistance and the transparency it speaks of.

    ~Michael

    • shirley enomoto on September 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm

      seems to me these questions should be directed to the finance director, assistant city manager delores turner or karan reid.

      shirley enomoto

      • Michael Webber on September 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm

        @ Shirley – Pat was happy to reply. The answers were very helpful.

        I think it is important for Bill Reuter to ask questions too. I am used to the Secret News probing the tough stuff. His comment – “Any negatives? Not really” – isn’t the level of tough-mindedness I expect from the Tattler and Secret News.

        For example, why is a labor rep being added to the committee – the answer is interesting. The union feels it was kept in the dark about the City running a $2 million or so SURPLUS instead of coming in at budget or slightly negative. Remember, the union was in the midst of negotiating a new labor contract, which dragged on and led to some ill-will, the City was pleading poverty and the union bought it.

        Now to avoid future ill-will the union will have a rep sitting on the committee monitoring things.

        My questions about lay-offs vs. attrition are also the important intersection between abstract numbers and real world impact. A finance committee needs to look at IMPACTS and TRADE OFFS not just see whether the numbers balance.

        One of the tricks of governing is to have an open door, put people on committees, then bury them with so much irrelevant information that the important gems get lost. One of the push-backs from committee members is ASKING HARD QUESTIONS. Sometimes obvious questions that you are afraid to ask because you will look dumb … like Columbo.

        In the company I worked for, I learned that just putting people on the spot and asking the important questions will generally get you the answers. You just need the instinct to ask the right questions, and push until you get the answers. Few employees will actually lie, though their ability to misdirect skillfully is unsurpassed in settings such as these.

  2. Michael Webber on September 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    I should also add two more comments:

    1. The city was ready to close ECDC for “budget reasons” but Jac Asher and other parents saved it.

    2. Jac Asher and the other parents specifically recommended layoffs at ECDC to help save it in the belief those cuts were necessary in light of the city budget.

    Did Jac Asher and the other parents get bamboozled by the city just like the union?

    If so, shame on you city staff and council!

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