Monday, September 09, 2019

Council Never Discussed Stopping Recording City Board Meetings

The last two City Council meetings tackled City boards and commissions.  City Clerk Julia Antilley and City Attorney Theresa presented staff recommendations for Council to consider.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said it all came down to Council preference.  City Council approved ordinance changes last October for many city boards.

Changes Council approved in September came after considerable discussion:
One thing Council did not address publicly was the cessation of recording city boards/commissions.  I noticed the change and asked staff about it.  When communication stopped I submitted public information requests to understand how and why this decision was made.

The City chose to invoke attorney-client privilege and not reveal the rationale for no longer recording meetings for the public to view.  In January 2019 citizens could keep up with the following boards.

That commitment changed on the city's website in mid-April, four days before the scheduled Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting:

City staff made these changes without informing City Council.

I informed Mayor Gunter in mid-August and she was not aware of the change in practice, then four months old.  After contacting the Mayor I learned the city does not have a policy on recording board/commission meetings.

The City of San Angelo has a website statement on recording and televising board meetings for the public to view.  Many would see that as a policy.  At a minimum it is a written commitment to the public, which changed dramatically with no input from City Council or any applicable board.

Citizens can longer view the following boards going forward on Channel 17 or the City's YouTube channel.  I totaled the number of views for the specific board meeting.

The City has a new face for SATV, per a recent news release.  Let's hope more public service reductions are not on the way.

Many elected officials run on government transparency and openness.  There was none of that in the decision to stop recording three city boards/commissions.  That should be concerning to Council and citizens wanting to remain informed in specific areas of local government.

Update 10-17-19:  I attended City Council on October 15th and raised this concern in public comment.  It starts at the 11:30 spot on the video recording.

Update 11-7-19:  City Council minutes from October 15th state ""Citizen Alan Prest (SMD1) spoke regarding city board meetings."  That sentence does not adequately represent my concern that four city boards/commissions are no longer recorded and shared with members of the public.  I was concerned that this decision was made without any input from members of City Council and that staff refused to share any information as to why the decision was made.  It's clear to me that staff do not wish to be transparent with the public in this matter.  Today I requested Council change the minutes to reflect my actual concern, not some attorney's whitewashing.

Update 11-26-19:  The City recorded the 11-21-19 Civic Events Board and placed the video on its YouTube site.  There has been no change in stated practice on the city's website, just a change in actual practice.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Municipal Court Revenues Down, Expenses Up

City Council's budget workshop on 8-27-19 had staff projecting a nearly $400,000 decline in Municipal Court revenues.  When asked why revenue had fallen the manager said the number of tickets written declined.  A second why question from Council got a deflection.

The Municipal Court manager was not the person to answer why the number of citations declined.  What manager fails to ask why when numbers differ from projections?  Staff frequently are unable or unwilling to answer the most basic questions from elected officials.

Curious as to the long term trend I pulled financial figures from the City's annual budget documents.  The numbers below are actual for 2012 to 2018, while 2019 takes the first ten months of the year and annualizes those numbers.  2020 is staff's projected budget.

Municipal Court revenues varied over the last seven years while expenses rose.  Assistant City Manager Michael Dane mentioned a reorganization that reduced court staff expenses but city numbers do not show an expense reduction for the year of Judge Gilbert's retirement or the upcoming budget year.

Judge Gilbert, now President and Consulting General Manager for Ener-Tel, retired from City employment after 44 years.  The Judge's reorganization got him full retirement benefits from the city, the top job as a major local employer that does significant business with the city and a $60,000 a year consulting gig with his former employer.  That doesn't count the Judge's spice business or his small court fill-in gigs at nearby towns.   Often employees suffer financially in a "reorg."  Not Judge Gilbert.  City Council approved the Judge's consulting agreement in March under the consent agenda.

I trust the revenue and expense numbers for each year until 2020 projected.  Finance staff like to under-estimate revenue and over-estimate expenses, sometimes called a budget cushion or sandbagging.  Time will reveal the accuracy of staff's predictions.