Nat Bates: City Council Meeting July 1st

blogimage.jpg“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”   --  Harry S Truman

Much of the July 1st council meeting focused upon the budget where again the mayor called three recesses with confrontations between her and councilman Booze. With the initial 20 plus million dollars budget shortfall, the question being asked is why can not a councilmember question and receive accurate information regarding the budget. The lack of previous oversight and questions by our full time mayor McLaughlin and finance chairperson, vice mayor Beckles and her committee regarding the financial status of the city is exactly one of several reasons why we are in this current predicament. Had questions been proposed earlier,  maybe, just maybe we would be more financially healthy. For the mayor and some councilmember to shut off debate and rubber stamp a budget that is questionable is irresponsible.

It appears the city manager in an effort to please everyone, has come up with a creative but in my opinion dangerous strategy of what is a balance budget on paper but not in reality. Case in point is much of his balancing act is dependent upon various give backs by employees bargaining units. Delays of pay raises shifted to down the road to 2015, various sick leave cost back to the city, etc only indicate that these items will be back on the table during next bargaining unit meet and confer. That is called, kicking the can down the road for another council to clean up our mess.

Getting specific, city expenses are $140 million with revenue at $134 million which represents about a 6 million deficit with about $12.25 in the reserve. According to the city manager, the preliminary budget called for about 30 jobs layoff to balance the budget. However, local SEIU 1021 position is that they will not give back salary increases and various other offers if they receive a substantial layoff of their employees. (What is substantial is questionable) Thus we have the bait and switch with no idea what the outcome will be. I have repeatedly stated with a large deficit, and with 80% of the budget comprised of personnel cost and benefits, there is no way one can achieve a balance budget without lay-offs unless the city wins the super lottery.

The bottom line is this budget is filled with political wishes of the council and backed by the city manager who in essence  wants to please the council majority. With the upcoming election in November, Mayor McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Beckles and her RPA team having been endorsed by SEIU 1021, although the filing period is not yet open, and they are committed to delivering what the union wants regardless of the negative consequences.  My request which went unheard was for the city manager and his department heads to do their jobs by prioritizing the needs of the city and the city manager come back with a balance budget that reflects a fair and equitable reduction to each department. That is the way competent and professional city managers I have worked with over the years have operated. When one politicizes a budget, the strong departments prevail and the weak departments are thrown to the wolves.

It is time Bill Lindsay as city manager displayed some courage by stepping up to the plate because it is obvious the majority of the council do not have the courage, imagination nor determination to do the job at hand. --  Nat Bates

Finally, I would not be surprised if this budget blow up in our face because the city is dependent upon too many uncertainties that include union agreeing to give back concessions without lay-offs, city ability to do the financial swap on the civic center and other areas of concerns. In spite of these problems, sometimes one has to try and protect the city by voting on ill conceived items such as this budget while hoping the best will prevail.

At last, we finally received a definitive vote on the eminent domain issue. As you may recall, several weeks ago this item was discussed by the council and the vote was 4 (McLaughlin, Beckles, Myrick and Butt) to 3 (Booze, Rogers and Bates) to continue the agreement with Mortgage Resource Partners. At that time Councilman Butt stated if the mayor was unable to secure a JPA city within 30 days, he would vote to terminate the contract. During the past forty days, no city has come forward as a JPA partners, yet Butt continues to stick with the RPA majority by refusing to vote to terminate the contract. In my earlier years, I was taught a man’s word was his bond. Many of us old timers have agreed to positions by a simple hand shake or a verbal agreement in the absence of a written contract. I was warned by a few business people and council member that But was not a man of integrity and they have had personal dealing with him in which he has refused to honor his promise. Yet, my Christian faith has taught me to try to always give a person the benefit of the doubt and hope they will change. However, in 2014, we live in a new day and age where one’s word has little integrity of honor and councilman Butt is a prime example. One of my friends stated “It is what it is and you should only depend upon Butt for being the fifth vote”. My position is the eminent domain is a dead issue and it is hopefully the voters in November will see fit to elect individuals who will terminate this ill conceived issue.

The final item was:

I-2.  APPROVE the 2014-15 North Richmond Waste and recovery Mitigation Fee expenditure Plan that specifies the activities and the revenue to support those activities from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015, s recommended by the North Richmond Waste and Recovery Mitigation Fee Joint Expenditure Planning Committee.

As a result of council rules, a super majority must vote to extend the meeting past 11:30PM. The motion to extend the meeting was defeated by the following votes. Voting yes were McLaughlin, Beckles, Butt and Myrick and voting no were Booze, Rogers and Bates. Thus the meeting ended whereupon vice mayor Beckles proceeded to have a confirmation with Reverend Davis. Later story coming.

Please note: The above comments are my observations and analysis as one council person with views of what is occurring inside and outside of city hall. Please feel free to share these comments with others should you desire.

Nat Bates
Senior member of the Richmond City Council
July 4, 2014

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