I began to watch the El Cerrito City Council meeting on 3/16/21. I was focused on the presentation on the 5-year forecast. The one where City Staff seem to recommend 2 million dollars in permanent cuts starting in July. But then I saw one Council Member give the same speech they have given pretty much every meeting for a year. Another Council Member had not even read the packet. Some Council Members asked for things like FAB looking at our financial policies or an ordinance but it was not clear to me that any action was going to be taken. And I was shocked that with this forecast that no Council Members asked the City Staff to come back with a list of cuts. If those cuts are going to be applied that starts in July. They have been saying we will have a community meeting in April and what the community needs is to know what is on the table so they can express their opinions.
I was also truly disappointed in how the Finance Director and City Manager framed the CA State Audit report. There was no accountability. The City Manager appeared to blame the past City Manager and councils. And while she is correct that they do bear responsibility she was the Assistant City Manager while many of these decisions were made. Councilperson Rudnick asked her during the meeting if she had written any of the memos that were given to the City Council during that time about the budget. Her answer was yes. The Finance Director was made a lot of statements about what the state auditor got wrong. This raises the question do City staff and the Council think we will believe them or the State Auditor? Because the answer for many of us is the State Auditor. The Finance Director might be right about the Tran expenses being figured out incorrectly. But because he refuses to give information to the Council and the public I have absolutely no trust in any of his answers. He is motivated to keep his job. The State Auditor is an unbiased reporter. I trust her not him.
I don’t want to be stuck in an endless blame game with staff and the Council. What I would like to see is a statement that mistakes were made and ownership from staff and the Council Members that were on the council before January of this year that they bear responsibility for those mistakes. How do we trust we are on the right track when there is no acknowledgment we were ever on the wrong track?
If you read the City’s formal response to the audit and then the auditor’s response back you can see a lack of accountability. The auditor says things like El Cerrito’s response is misleading, El Cerrito overstates the actual amount of financial resources available for the city’s use, and our audit identified that El Cerrito does not adhere to many GFOA best budgeting practices. I believe them and I believe that many in the community also believe them.
Other Important Notes
We have a petition to support a fiscal reserve ordinance. The City Manager has said we have not followed the financial policies we have so why would we expect them to be followed now? An ordinance puts some teeth into the policies and allows for consequences if it is not followed. Other municipalities including San Francisco have such an ordinance. Please sign here.
El Cerrito Progressives is having a community budget meeting on Thursday, March 25th, from 6:30-7:30pm. Join by registering for the Community Budget Forum on Zoom. This is a good way to learn about what is happening and how to advocate for what you believe in at City Meetings.