City Manager Up to Her Tricks again aided by Mayor Quinto

The City Manager and the Mayor set the agenda for each council meeting. Things that are put on the consent calendar get passed all at once. Often this is for items like proclamations etc but in recent El Cerrito history it was also used to pass the September response to the state auditor. Council members can pull something off of the consent calendar though I am uncertain as to whether there needs to be a vote to do this or not.

The agenda for September 20, 2020 has a few financial issues on the consent calendar. The one I will discuss today is Item 5J. You can find the memo on this on page 171 of the packet. First the background. The California State Auditor specially called out “Ineffective Budget Development and Monitoring Practices Drive Overspending.” (CA State Auditor Report page 18 of 64) There is a long discussion as to reasons behind this assessment. At the end the many recommendations were made including the following:

• “To ensure accountability in monitoring
the budget, city management should
present monthly updates to the
city council on the current status of
departmental budgets and comparisons
to prior-year budgeted and actual
amounts.
City management should
promptly seek approval from the city
council of proposed budget adjustments
by departments when warranted. City
management should also prepare and
provide to the city council supporting
documentation to justify any proposed
budget increases.” (CA State Auditor Report page 24 of 64)

Bold is mine.

If you read the City Manager’s Report she made the recommendation for the change to the Comprehensive Financial Policy not the Financial Advisory Board (FAB). This change stops the monthly reports the State Auditor recommended and changes the reporting to quarterly. She reports she brought this to FAB in April 2022 (where it failed by a 2-2 vote). She then brought it again to them again on June 26, 2022. At that time, the City Manager was advised that the policy does not incorporate the State Auditor’s recommendations and relaxes the requirement for monthly reporting, which directly opposes the State Auditor’s recommendations.  The City Manager’s memo states

“At the August 23, 2022 FAB meeting, staff again presented this proposal and shared their concerns with the FAB that with the current staffing situation in the Finance Department and City Manager’s office, at this time monthly reporting is not achievable. Further, City Council has been receiving quarterly reports over the past fiscal year as advised by the City Council adhoc subcommittee. While the original language proposed to the FAB by staff does not preclude the City Council requiring more frequent reporting as long as it is “no less than quarterly”, staff suggested including additional language to clarify that “Reports may be required on a monthly basis by the City Council if they deem it necessary to more frequently monitor the budget.” The FAB again discussed concerns about the frequency of the reporting to the City Council, and did not approve a recommendation by a 3-2 vote. The FAB did not consider or provide an alternative recommendation to send to the City Council.” (City Council packet for 9/20/22 page 172/233)

Per El Cerrito City Code 2.04.290 The Financial Advisory Board does the following

3. “To conduct an annual review of the city’s comprehensive financial policy and investment policy and make recommendations regarding the managing of the city’s financial reserves to assure maximum returns on approved investments;”

7.”To review the form and format of budget documents, agenda bills and other recurring financial reports prepared by the city and issue recommendations to the city council and the city manager regarding how the form and format of these documents may be modified to allow for greater clarity in the manner financial information is reported.”

In this instance, the City Manager did her own review and recommendation of a revision of the Comprehensive Financial Plan without the approval of FAB and disregards/does not engage with FAB on the financial reporting they recommend.

The City Manager states in her memo that the City Council Ad-Hoc Committee, appointed to oversee the response to the state auditor, (consisting of Councilpersons Motoyama and Rudnick) have said it was okay to do quarterly reporting even though it contradicts the State Auditor’s recommendation. I want to note that later on the agenda Item 8B is this “FY 2021-22 General Fund Budget Quarterly Update through June 2022“. On September 20, 2022 the City Council is receiving a quarterly budget update for a period that ended in June. Quarterly reporting that happens 3 months after the quarter end becomes semi-annual reporting. We already know that the Council and Staff are not nimble in their responses. By the time Council is aware of any issues that arise it will be too late to address them. I understand that there have been continual complaints that they are understaffed in the Finance Department but after being on the State Auditor’s list for multiple years it should be a Council and Staff priority to get off the list and stay off of the list. 

We have requested that all the candidates for the two open Council seats submit some answers to us by tomorrow September 20, 2022. One of the questions asked about reporting financial data issues. I truly hope that some of the candidates respond.

If you want to take an action I would suggest writing the council people and asking this item be removed from the consent calendar and discussed fully.

Email addresses are as follows

Mayor Gabe Quinto gquinto@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Mayor Pro-Tem Motoyama lmotoyama@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Councilperson Rudnick trudnick@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Councilperson Janet Abelson jabelson@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Councilperson Paul Fadelli pfadelli@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

2 thoughts on “City Manager Up to Her Tricks again aided by Mayor Quinto

  1. Whether reports are quarterly, monthly, daily, or hourly, matters little to me. Quarterly seems quite adequate. The State Auditor made recommendations, and most of them have been reviewed and incorporated by the City. However, they are recommendations, not orders.

    As a practical matter, more frequent reporting could require more staff time. That would be fine, except there is a severe lack of staff, especially in the Finance Dept. Look around the second floor and there are very few people there. Employees quit for other higher paying jobs. Qualified applicants appear to be few. There are several open positions right now.

    So perhaps the City Manager is being practical instead of “up to her tricks again” — which is a nice, provocative headline. Crediting the mayor for his assistance is a stretch. This would be a management decision and it’s unlikely the mayor is involved. Of course, you have a personal grudge with the mayor, so maybe that’s a bias.

    Getting back to report generation, count the bodies. There’s a City Manager, Finance Director, one Management Assistant who really works for the City Clerk, plus maybe a couple of finance people (AR and AP).

    So I prefer to give staff the benefit of the doubt. Especially, when I know the CM works extremely long hours on myriad issues that her position deals with. If financial reports are quarterly, instead of monthly, and it saves hours and paper, the City will survive. The financial recovery is happening. It just takes time. Everything in government takes time.

    Now you can call me out for cheerleading the City Manager. I’m fine with that. I met her 15 years ago and she has always been friendly, helpful, and willing to answer questions. I support her and want her to succeed; then the City succeeds. She’s an EC resident and has the City’s best interests at heart.

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    1. El Cerrito has a BBB- bond rating with Standard and Poors and is #6 among the worst-run cities in California. Therefore City Council should not lower the reporting requirements to meet the substandard performance. Our community deserves better.

      Before the pandemic, the community has repeatedly heard about the lack of staffing in the Finance Group. Any Chief Executive public agency or private industry has an obligation to overcome those hurdles and acquire the staff necessary. Over 420 other cities, including San Pablo and Richmond, have better financial performance than El Cerrito. The CM needs to get her act together.

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