It is probably not true but some of us feel like these meetings are set up in a manner to discourage public engagement and comment. I had hoped this meeting, with just the budget on the agenda, would allow time for ample public comment. Alas. It was instead a total reminder of the inefficient and bloated manner in which El Cerrito is managed. Each Department Head presented. Except they did not know what to present so they presented it all. And conversations went to places not related to the budget. Like how Community Development has been a mess with permits. A topic that deserves its own time on the agenda but is not part of the budget. And they did not accept public comment until the very end of all of the presentations which meant at around 11:30 pm. So many of us had long signed off to go to bed.
So a few positives before I go on
- Mayor Fadelli did bring up the need for cuts in each department. Several times. This should have been given to the Department Heads as direction to be part of their presentation.
- Councilpersons Rudnick and Motoyama continue to ask good questions. Councilperson Rudnick particularly pushed the Finance Director on some issues. Good for her.
- The City Manager brought up that the City Council could cut the library budget but no Councilperson took up that cause. The library hours are within the budget!
That’s it that’s the good. The bad
- I know I mention this often but the City Manager is not telling us what this mystery 2 million in cuts will be. It will be in the budget book coming out May 24th which allows only two meetings of discussion on the cuts. Unless the Council adds meetings.
- The Finance Director continues to give a different answer every time he is asked about the TRAN costs. This time he said we could expect a 3% rate. We paid 0.84% last time and cities with good credit are averaging .4%. This is a lot of additional money we are paying due to poor fiscal management.
- It is my understanding that the Financial Advisory Board passed on a recommendation that the budget end with a 1 million surplus not including federal bail-out money. This was never relayed in the meeting by the Finance Director. The Chair of FAB did bring this up at the very end in public comment.
- Grants continue to be brought up as an option but no plan is in place for a dedicated grant writer. Even a contract person. I believe there will lots of fire safety grants in CA this coming year. We need someone to go and get the city some of that money.
So what did we learn? Nothing. There seems to be no expectation that Departments will cut their budgets. There seems to be no progress on union negotiations with fire and police. I do understand that that is private but come on Police and Fire unions you can at least give up your COLAS to do your part. But they don’t have to since they have a contract. It does appear that no concessions are being offered. We have no understanding of the budget that will be proposed. We continue to see absolutely no sense of urgency as to the issue. We see no creative solutions to reduce the bloat. There are obvious places to cut like police dispatch. That should have been being worked on before now.
We need real leadership. The City Manager is responsible for the Department Heads and she should have directed them as to how to present concisely and with some thoughts on potential cuts. If the City Manager is not capable of that leadership then her boss, the City Council, needs to direct her or support her in doing things differently. Council also needs to step up as far as the work product that is being produced. The financial reports are not good. Period and again if the Finance Director cannot produce meaningful data he needs to be directed, supported, or asked to move on. That is the City Managers’ responsibility. He reports to her. The council continues to play nice and thank the staff for all their hard work. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how hard they work if the product is faulty. Very specific directives need to be given. Mayor Fadelli this is your chance to be a leader. Please give specific direction to the City Manager. I know much of the work happens behind the scenes but the public needs to know that we have competent people addressing this problem. What we are seeing in Council meetings is not showing us that.