OPINION: CITY COMMISSIONERS SPENDING MONEY LIKE DRUNKEN SAILORS
By Ron Munden -- email@example.com -- December 22, 2018
When I worked for Booz Allen and Hamilton, I often heard one of the partners say, “They are spending money like a drunken sailor.” He watched the money like a hawk because being a partner—it was his money.
When I was Director of the Naval Sea Pacific Detachment, I watched the budget like a hawk. It was not my money; it was government funds. But as a 100% project funded office, if we did not produce enough revenue to cover payroll and other expenditures, I knew I had to start letting people go because that is the fastest way of cutting cost. I considered budget management one of my most important responsibilities. I treated that money as if it was my money.
After reviewing the video from the last City Commission meeting, I do not think the City Commissioners treats city funds as if they were their own funds. Most of the Commissioners were shocked when the City Finance Director informed them that they had approved expenditures that exhausted the excess reserves which I believe were $900,000 and cut $500,000 into the mandatory 90-day reserve. To authorize expenditures that exceeded revenue by more than $1 million dollars means that the Commissioners were not watching the budget.
Commissioner Halliday has been suggesting changes to operating procedures that would have alerted the Commissioners to the problem months earlier and hundreds of thousands of dollars earlier. Commissioner Halliday’s suggestions fell on deaf ears and the other Commissioners did not even want to discuss the suggestions. In fact, many times the motions did not even get a second – cutting off all discussion.
In my opinion, in the last month Commissioner Lewis made a dumb and dangerous suggestion. He suggested that the city governance policy be modified to require a commissioner to have a second before an agenda item could become an official agenda item and be discussed in an open meeting.
It appears that most of the Commissioners have elected to bury their heads in the sand rather than addressing the hard problems facing the City.
On Thursday night the news that the City had used part of its mandatory reserve was shocking to everyone. It is understandable that the citizens would not see this coming. The only explanation for the Commissioners not knowing is that they have not been doing their job.
During the discussion all the Commissioners did was make excuses why this could not have been prevented. Commissioner Beil said that overtime could not be managed because the City does not know how much overtime would be needed. This demonstrated her lack of understanding of the budget management process.
For 16 years I managed a 24/7 mission critical information systems organization. Arguably an organization that faces overtime management challenges as great as any other type of organization. Of course, we did not know exactly how much overtime would be needed each year. But we had historical overtime usage and profile information. We reviewed OT usage in the monthly budget review. When we projected over expending our OT budget in the future, we added money to the overtime budget and at the same time we cut spending in other areas to cover the OT budget increase. It was not difficult. It did require paying attention to the budget.
At the end of the presentation Mayor Hurta said that we needed to ensure there was enough money to cover the 90-day reserve. He gave no details on how he planned to do this.
I predict that 2019 is going to be a difficult financial year for the City of Marshall. The City Commission needs to provide oversight to the budget management process. The City Commissioners need to be on the field playing the game, not sitting in the stands watching the game.