Will El Cerrito ever address the state auditor recommendations?

After passing a budget with no real cuts (except to seniors) in June the City Council will only meet once a month in July, August, and September (as per usual) because there is not hurry when you are on the verge of bankruptcy.

While Albany City Staff are preparing recommendations on how to spend the federal money (ARPA) our city staff continues to prepare budget documents that tell us nothing. Today’s post is going to focus on issues that state auditor brought up. I did a public records request to the state auditors office for the documents supporting their recommendations. Because after the report was released we heard the City Manager and Finance Director say that the auditors were wrong on many things. I wanted to see the source documentation. It is exhausting to continually be gaslighted about these things when the facts support our conclusions.

In no particular order here are issues the State Auditor brought up and the City denied.

  1. Cost of the TRAN Loans

This one actually made me laugh. Because I have heard the Finance Director deny the costs multiple times. When I got the state audit paperwork they based it on the City’s own accounting system reports. So one could speculate either the Finance Director is being deliberately deceptive or he doesn’t know what is going on. I am attaching the document here. Some parts were redacted by the State.

2. The City is not following The Government Finance Officer Association (GFAO) guidelines

The State Auditor stated that the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) provides a framework for “Recommended Budget Practices” . This framework states that “A good budget process is characterized by several essential features including:
· Incorporates a long-term perspective,
· Focuses budget decisions on results and outcomes,
· Involves and promotes effective communication with stakeholders”

They added “The GFOA also recommends that budget documents should contain a financial overview (consisting of financial statements and accompanying narrative, charts, and graphics) which includes comparisons of prior period actual results, current period budget and/or estimated actual results and budget period projected figures. The rationale for this recommendation is that stakeholders need to have the financial plan of the government clearly identified in order to make the best budgetary decisions. (p.65)
Even further, the GFOA explicitly recommends that a government should prepare a summary of both the proposed and final budget as most stakeholders do not want to take the time to read and understand the details of a budget. A concise summary of key issues, choices, and financial trends is therefore needed to inform and direct the reader to the appropriate location for additional information. (p.68)”

Take a look at the budget documents. This is not at all the process or product we are seeing. There is no real 5-year plan. Stakeholders are not only not involved but criticized for speaking up. There are no comparisons to prior years.

Here is a document with more of what the state auditor specifically saw.

In addition, you can look at the prior Finance Director’s report for mid-year 2016 below. While not stellar it does break things down. She left a few months later and Mark Rasiah took the job. 2016/2017 after he took over is when the city started its big downslide. Though in fairness to Mr. Rasiah decisions made back as far as 2008 have affected things.

3. The City’s salaries are high in comparison to other cities.

The State Auditor used Richmond, Alameda, Pinole, Hayward, and Albany. They used these cities in our area and as cities that El Cerrito has also used to create comparisons from (though EC likes to throw in cities like Walnut Creek also).

Below is their analysis and a few of their supplemental documents (there were many-they spent some serious time on this issue). The highest discrepancies were with fire battalion chiefs and some police positions.

“The auditor identified 15 key positions in management and public safety which command high salaries and are commonly found in California cities.

Based on the auditor’s analysis of salary data, the auditor identified that El Cerrito’s firefighters have base salaries that are about 6% higher than the average of our comparison cities, respectively Additionally, the city’s fire engineers have a top salary that is about 2.5% higher than the average of our comparison cities. Based on the auditor’s analysis of salary data, the auditor identified that El Cerrito’s battalion chiefs salaries are approximately 1 to 11 percent higher than the average of similar positions at other agencies. Based on the auditor’s analysis of salary data, the auditor identified that the higher amounts that El Cerrito’s firefighters earn total to about $55,000 annually. We determined that most of El Cerrito’s base salaries are comparable to those of the comparison cities.

The auditor analyzed El Cerrito’s 2020-21 personnel budget and identified eight individuals whose salaries currently exceed the city’s control point before factoring in furlough days that two of those employees have. The auditor estimated that the total annual cost of these salaries is approximately $123,000.”

Here are a few of the supplemental documents that were used to support this conclusion.

Control Points shows which city staff are getting paid above the steps designated.

Comparison Data looks at our salaries compared with the cities named above.

So what do we do? We keep on keeping on. We must keep the pressure on. The City Council has not been able to shift the direction of the City Manager and Finance Director. While the newer Council Members ask many tough questions and even voted against the budget it is not enough. In 2022 there will be an election with two seats up. One incumbent Gabe Quinto is expected to run and one Janet Abelson is not. We need to get both of those seats filled with council members that believe in transparency and addressing the budget. However, if/until we can get our change on the City Council we need to keep the pressure on. I firmly believe that if the public did not uprise about the budget we would be in even worse condition.

Things we want to see

  1. An ordinance to FORCE the city to have a reasonable reserve and spend it only in specific circumstances. This is something that has received huge resistance from the City Manager. However, the City Council and City Manager cannot be trusted to do this themselves. If they don’t want to do it we will be organizing a citizen-driven petition to do so. With about 2,500 signatures we can force the City Council to either accept the ordinance we will then write or they will have to call a special election. Obviously, we would prefer that City Council would direct the Financial Advisory Board to do this. But if they won’t we will go the petition/special election route. This is too important. It must be done.
  2. A Five-Year Budget.
  3. A review of everything we spend and the costs. Everything needs to be looked at even our favorites. The Swim Center, Public Safety, City Recycling (we provide our own trucks rather than outsource like other cities). What can we afford and what can we not afford? What are the trade-offs? What does the public think is most important? This discussion needs to start very soon. Put one topic on the agenda every month and do a deeper dive.
  4. Address our pension costs. The City’s own reports show this is quickly getting out of control. We may need to look at different formats for pensions moving forwards (we can’t change past contracts). We also need to follow through on funding the 115 plan to start putting aside money for pension costs. We made some preliminary moves on this but it needs to be funded.
  5. We need to spend the ARPA funds and do it correctly. Look above at what the Albany Staff recommends. We have outdated fire equipment. We are not prepared for an emergency. There are ways to spend that money responsibly rather than just using it to delay making other cuts.

El Cerrito Spends Over Half a Million to Settle Sexual Harassment Case

A few months ago I saw this in the budget document (page 71)

This is in the Human Resources Section of the Budget. You will note the $500,000 for a large legal settlement. If you remember in 2019 Sarah Perez sued the ECPD for sexual harassment and retaliation. She alleged she was sexually harassed by her supervisor David Wentworth. When a complaint was filed by a colleague on her behalf she alleges the retaliation began. The situation ended with her quitting her job.

I did a public records request. Documents provided to me show that Ms. Perez received some back pay and a $544,341 settlement. The settlement agreement has no admission of liability. Three current members (Fadelli, Quinto, and Abelson) were on the council when this was approved. When looking at the size of the settlement it is easy to wonder if the lawsuit had no merit would there have been such a large settlement?

Remember just last month when the City Manager pushed to eliminate $58,000 from the budget by reducing library hours. Well, they are writing a half a million dollar settlement check for a police officer that is still employed by the ECPD. As is the Lieutenant alleged to have retaliated against her. It specifies in the settlement that Sergeant Wentworth will pay none of the settlement. So the taxpayers paid for it. And we’ll pay it again if allegations are made against him again.

This is deeply disturbing on many levels. The allegations are upsetting. The financial implications are horrible especially given El Cerrito continues to teeter on the financial brink. The money was attributed to the Human Resources Budget but perhaps it should have been taken out of the police budget.

My guess is that city staff and council will not talk about a legal issue. Fine. Then let’s start asking what policies and systems were put in place for ECPD to make sure something like this never happens again. Chief Keith should explain how many females currently work as sworn officers (in 2019 it was 4 of 40) and how he is protecting them from sexual harassment. 

One more example of the dysfunction of El Cerrito. 

Budget passes 3-2

So bad news is the budget passed without structural cuts to address our severe financial problems. It appears most of the City Council and the City Manager are content to use the federal bailout money to address some of the reserve issues. This can be fine for the two years we get the money but afterward, we will be even worse than we are now! Pension costs are growing quickly!

On a positive note Councilpersons, Rudnick and Motoyama voted NO! I believe this is the first time a budget vote was not 5-0. Those are the Council members on the AdHoc Finance Committee and the ones we believe understand the budget best. So good for them. I hope it is the beginning of doing things differently in El Cerrito.

There will need to be budget amendments for the federal ARPA funds so we can continue to push for structural cuts.

I also saw on Facebook that Mayor Fadelli is now having office hours at the El Cerrito Natural Foods Annex beginning July 15th from 9-11 am. I encourage those who want to understand more about why Mayor Fadelli voted yes on this budget to attend.

He and Councilperson Rudnick are the only Council members to have such meetings. I would also encourage you to ask Councilperson Quinto to have such meetings. He has repeatedly stated we need cuts and he frequently uses the term austerity but he never suggests concrete cuts and he has voted yes for every budget. He did vote to cut the library hours before changing his mind and voting to keep them. Even though with his vote he again stated cuts needed to be made as he voted to stop a cut. (not that I disagree with saving the library but it seems he says one thing and then did another)

Councilperson Abelson has been on the council since 1999 and therefore has been a part of all the decisions that have lead us to this point. I would also encourage people to request meetings with her.

What would be great moving forward

  1. The Ad-Hoc Committee changes how the budget process runs. Maybe develop a time frame and guideposts for the City Manager. It is typical in many locations for this process to begin in January! This allows ample time to dig deep into the budget without long meetings past half the publics’ bedtime.
  2. There needs to be a comprehensive plan as to how we will meet our reserve goals. The State Auditor recommended a Fiscal Response Plan and from what we have seen no comprehensive plan has been developed.
  3. There needs to be real forecasting using a 5-year budget. Here is an example of San Jose’s budget document. I recognize San Jose has more resources but there are things in this document we can be doing. They forecast for 5 years and do three different forecasts including an optimistic one and a pessimistic one. They are transparent as to their issues and deficit. There is an entire page (page 10) that outlines Budget Balancing Strategy Guidelines. Their budget schedule, starting in January, is on page 20. In one of the Management Partners contracts, one of their stated projects was to develop a forecasting tool. When I have done public records requests as of this point there is no tool that they have developed. Perhaps we need to invest in developing a tool if this is not something that the Finance Director can do.
  4. Cut back the City Managers spending authority. It is currently $45,000. Richmond’s City Manager’s authority is $10,000. In the recent management staff resolution, it was stated that the City Manager had some authority to raise salaries and provide a car for staff as needed. This needs to be evaluated. This is the same City Manager that had almost the entire Management staff getting a substantial car allowance.

City Council Meeting June 15th

I will be honest a bunch of us dedicated budget/council watchers viewed some or all of the meeting. Afterwards, we had a few debates as to what happened. This is how convoluted this process is. Even people well versed in the dysfunction of the El Cerrito government can’t always keep up with the what is going on. A cynical person might believe that is the intent of having these discussions between 10-11pm at night.

I will start with what I know happened.

  1. Library Hours-There was lots of public comment. All in support of keeping the hours. At 8:48 pm Councilperson Rudnick made a motion to save the hours with a second by Mayor Fadelli. At 9 pm Councilperson Motoyama gave an impassioned speech about the library but also saying that the long-term financial picture is more important here. Councilperson Rudnick then gave an impassioned speech on why these hours are critical. At around 9:25 pm they voted 4-1 to keep the hours and move them to a non-departmental line. That was something pushed by Councilperson Abelson. Councilperson Quinto spoke about the need to make cuts in every department but then voted to save the hours. Councilperson Motoyama voted no. While I personally disagree with her vote I do appreciate that she made the vote from a place of integrity. She seems to be the Councilperson most committed to getting cuts made. I don’t agree with that cut but I appreciate her dedication to creating change. I also appreciate Councilperson Rudnick for her part in saving those hours.

2. Pension Fund-Councilperson Motoyama wants to allot money for a Section 115 reserve fund to help address our YUGE unfunded pension liability. She wanted to use the library money to partially fund it. It ended as a motion to begin the process for the Request for Funding to get it set up. There will be further discussion on how to fund it and the costs to establish the fund. This vote was 5-0. While I cannot explain Section 115 well it is a positive outcome. We need to start addressing our pension liabilities and this is a small but good first step. Now we need to get and keep it funded.

What was not clear. 

The Financial Advisory Board sent in a recommendation.

Here is the letter in its entirety

“To the members of the El Cerrito City Council: The FAB continued its review of the 2021-2022 proposed Budget Book at its June 8 meeting, and found that the budget presented to Council at the June 1 City Council meeting will not achieve the objective to put the City on a longer term path of sustainable financial health. As a result, the FAB makes the following recommendation: Prior to the June 30 deadline for adopting a 2021-2022 budget the Council should direct the Administration to prepare and present to Council at an additional budget meeting a proposed budget that includes the following:

A $1 million General Fund surplus that does not rely on the receipt of the ARPA funds;

A menu of options that could generate the $1 million surplus with explanations of impacts on residents;

For programs in the proposed Budget Book that contains material service reductions, an explanation of the impacts on residents.

Thank you.

Dick Patterson Chair – Financial Advisory Board”

Those of us that watched that FAB meeting thought it was clear that the recommendation was to have a 1 million surplus for 21/22. Not a surplus that included a carry-over from 20/21.

At the beginning of the council meeting Councilperson Rudnick suggested we only need to cut around $55,000 to meet the FAB recommendation. (This was before library hours being restored. ) We believe she took that information from the screenshot above. The General Fund Forecast shown above indicates a projected surplus at the end of 20/21 of $525,011 and then projects a surplus of $419,269 for 21/22 which means we would have a surplus of $944,280 at the end of 21/22. With an additional $55,000 we would have a million-dollar reserve as Councilperson Rudnick pointed out.

Given the way the FAB statement is worded, I can see where there might be confusion. I hope FAB clarifies their recommendation because obviously, people heard it to mean different things. Councilperson Rudnick did ask for clarification at the meeting and the Finance Director agreed with her. He attends the FAB meetings and I am confused as to why he did not clarify this point. At the end of the day the Council gets to decide whether or not to follow the FAB recommendation. If they choose not to follow the recommendation I believe they need to explain to the public why they made that choice.

10% of a 40 million budget is 4 million. In addition, we have a policy of having a 6 million Emergency Reserve. Our policies state we should have a total of 10 million in reserve. If we are putting away only $500k a year then it will take us 20 years to get a reserve that follows policy. 

What is not clear is if the City Manager will ever provide a menu of cuts as repeatedly requested by the Council, the public, and now the Financial Advisory Board. This was brought up again by several Councilmembers including that the menu have the impacts as suggested by FAB. The City Manager continues to kick the can and put off making cuts. How will the city ever be financially sound if we do not make cuts? Our pension costs are going to go through the roof in the next few years. Even with cuts we are right on the edge.

The City Manager seems to intend to use the Federal Funds to pull things together for the next few years rather than addressing the larger structural issues. The Council keeps not holding her accountable for this. I get that because of delays in when they began to plan for the budget it is hard to make that level in cuts in 2 weeks. But the City Manager has been asked for this before. Those federal dollars were meant to help mitigate covid impacts on communities not bail out poorly run communities. In other communities, they are using that money to help renters or business owners. In our community, it appears that we will cut services to seniors permanently and not help anyone but highly compensated management staff. With the cuts made to the senior programs the seniors no longer have a place to hang out and socialize. Nor do they have a computer lab. Seniors have been severely impacted by COVID. To cut these services now seems cruel. At a minimum, if we had the menu of cuts option the community could have decided to pick which things got cut. Maybe the community would say cut senior services and save other things. But they should have been asked.

What to expect and what to ask for at the next meeting. 

  1. I expect the City Manager to again not bring a menu of cuts. What we hope is that the City Council will push the issue and DEMAND a list of cuts and put a date on it. I understand it may have to be a budget amendment later but the CUTS need to happen in the 21/22 fiscal year. As early as possible.
  2. I would encourage residents to tell the council and staff to follow the FAB recommendations. I would also encourage them to demand the next budget process start somewhere around January or February of 2022 so that we can get a decent thoughtful budget by the July 1st deadline.
  3. I don’t expect the library cuts to come up again but I would not rule it out.
  4. Budgets now and moving forward need to be linked to a 5-year budget forecast that has the budget at the minimum 10 million reserves each year or include a very specific plan as to how we will arrive at that goal. This is in our financial policies. Follow the policies. This 20 year plan to get there is not okay.
  5. Both City Staff and the Council need to be held accountable for not taking this financial crisis seriously. Cutting small ticket items like library hours or one police car is not going to dig us out of this mess. We may need to invest some money into hiring a City Manager or consultant that is experienced in working with cities on the verge of bankruptcy. I hate to spend more money now but I believe the effects of bankruptcy would be pretty devastating and I am not confident we have the leadership to pull us out of this mess.

Preparing for the June 15th City Council Meeting

A lot went on at the last meeting Council Meeting. We expect that there will be extensive public comment at the next meeting because people are upset about the cuts to the library hours.

We would encourage the following talking points also.

1. Council members should reject the budget because it does not meet the criteria the Financial Advisory Board set for the budget to have a one million dollar surplus. This was set as a way of building our reserves back. In addition, this is a budget that states that senior services are cut back to the basics. However, there has been no disclosure of what those cuts are. How can the council vote on a budget without having specificity on cuts? This has not been a transparent process at all. Cuts are made and then buried in a long document. Or surprise cuts happen like with the library cuts. Council members and the community need to know what cuts are on the table and what they impact these cuts will have on the community.

2. We support the proposal Mayor Fadelli made last meeting for a percentage of the Transfer Tax being dedicated for reserves. This is the type of fiscal responsibility we need to get off the State Auditors list of cities on the brink of bankruptcy. We applaud Mayor Fadelli for making the motion. We would like to see this brought back again and brought to a vote. Last time the City Manager wore them down into a simple agreement.

3. Of course there are also issues with the library hours being cut. While it appears that they legally met the Brown Act requirements they violated the spirit of the law. Which is that deals are not made behind the scenes and that there is public notice to the community of issues that are being voted on. While one cannot prove behind-the-scenes maneuvers it looked like some council members came to the meeting ready to follow the City Managers’ lead on this issue and other council members seemed surprised the vote came up. If council members were surprised how would the community know to attend the meeting?

4. Finally there was a 5-year projection included in the last meetings packet. You can see this in the screenshot below. The green line is the proposed budget for 21/22 and you can see an 11% reserve. This is happening because of the Federal bailout money. Each column afterward is a year further so the reserve is 8.8% in 22/23 and 6.3% in 23/24 3.5% in 24/25 and finally 2.8% in 25/26. So without any structural cuts, we only meet our reserve goal next year. While Councilperson Motoyama brought up the 5-year projection last meeting it was not discussed. As I have said before the City continues to kick the can. This 5-year projection is not allowing for the PERS retirement rate changing which could make these numbers way way worse. We need a budget that addresses this. Another reason this budget should not be voted for.

Pictures Speak Louder than Words

One of our local residents put together some graphs on El Cerrito finances for the years 2016-2020. I think this is a great way for us to see some of these issues visually. I know it was super helpful for me. At the bottom are links to the data sources used to create the graphs. For me what stood out the most is the dramatic increase in expenditures that corresponds with the dramatic lowering of our ending General Fund Balance.

Sources of Data

Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) http://el-cerrito.org/1288/Financial-Transparency-Site
Employee Compensation https://transparentcalifornia.com/
San Francisco Area CPI: https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CUURS49BSA0
Taxable Transactions https://www.cdtfa.ca.gov/dataportal/dataset.htm?url=TaxSalesCRCityCounty

The City Manager continues to run the show

This meeting was extraordinarily long and very challenging to watch.

The low points (there were no high points I saw).

The library hours were cut by a 3-2 vote. Councilperson Motoyama brought up the motion after the City Manager hinted strongly for the second meeting in a row that she wanted them cut. Councilpersons Abelson, Motoyama, and Quinto voted for it. Mayor Fadelli and Councilperson Rudnick against it. Councilperson Rudnick pleaded several times not to do it and also posted a subsequent video on Facebook stating how upset she was. The budget has not been voted on yet so there could be a second vote next time if there is enough public outcry about this.

The reason the library hours are such a burning point are listed below

  1. It provides many services for those in our community that are marginalized. Like lunches for kids in the summers. Like internet access since a quarter of our county’s residents don’t have that access (specific figures to El Cerrito are not known). For a city that proclaims it cares about equity, this is not a vote that was taken with equity in mind.
  2. The total cost of this cut, which was the ONLY cut identified, was $58,000. That is it. There is between $350,000-$500,000 budgeted for next year for a large legal settlement. That many of us suspect (but is not confirmed) to be the settlement of the Perez vs El Cerrito sexual harassment lawsuit. All officers named in that lawsuit appear to still be employees of the city. Which if it is true leaves the City liable for future lawsuits. But yes let’s cut the library hours. (1)
  3. While technically legally compliant with the Brown Act this was a surprise attack on the library hours and people were not able to comment. Even with the meeting starting at 5 pm the public comment was around 10 pm and only three of us spoke. The last time this was on the agenda over 100 people wrote in with comments last night no one had the opportunity to speak because no notice was given that this was an issue on the table.
  4. While cuts need to be made and everything should be on the table (and I am personally opposed to library cuts to be fully transparent) this was the only cut made. No one looked at the $150K for 3 new police cars for example. The public had no option to speak as to their priorities. Maybe people would say cut library, not police cars but we will never know.

There was another part of the meeting that was the perfect example of the dysfunction of our city and how the City Manager runs the City, not the City Council. Mayor Fadelli pushed the City Manager as hard as I have ever seen her pushed by Council on designating part of the transfer tax to be put into reserve. Which would mean some actual cuts to the budget. The City Manager was obviously upset and talked about how she would have to redo the entire budget book etc. Now if she had listened to the numerous other time’s cuts had been brought up she would not have to redo it. There was a lengthy back and forth and Councilperson Motoyama tried bringing up a few alternatives. But the City Manager stood firm. So after all the discussion it ended with a simple request from the Council that the budget is built with a 1 million surplus each year as recommended by the Financial Advisory Board. Yet again nothing enforceable. Just the way the City Manager likes it. And the entire City Council backed down. Again. Is this how you want City Council to represent you as a resident and voter? In 2022 there are two seats up for election. They are currently held by Councilpersons Abelson and Quinto. Both voted for the library cuts. Councilperson Quinto declared he was running again last night. Rumor is Councilperson Abelson will not. I would recommend watching at around the 930pm hour which would be about 4.5 hours into the video available here. You need to see the dysfunction in action.

In addition, Councilperson Motoyama brought up the 5-year forecast which is dismal but never addressed in the meeting. Without the federal bailout money (ARPA) we would have no reserve next year. But even with it we only hit the 10% minimum the first year and are below it and in the danger zone for the following 4 years.

So what is there to do? I am hearing talk of interest in recalling Councilpersons Quinto and/or Abelson. Some residents are also talking about a fiscal budget ordinance (like the petition we have) here going on the ballot. If City Council won’t do the work the residents must. Others want to wait until the 2022 election and work for a clean slate. These are some options. Feel free to add more in the comments. What is clear is that just talking to the three council members willing to talk is not enough. More action and engagement is necessary. So I ask every reader to try and take one action to do more. Write in for public comment at the next meeting about the library cuts. Public pressure has swayed that decision before. Inform your neighbors about the financial crisis in our City. Follow this blog or the threads on Next Door to see what is happening and watch at least one meeting so you can see it all in action. Because you really have to see it to believe it!

(1) Footnotes

Here is where the legal settlement is shown as 350K and as 500k.

Above is pages 71 of 281

Above is page 80 of 281

El Cerrito Progressives also posted on this issue. Their blog post is found here.

Here are all the emails if you want to write to the City Council and/or the City Manager

Karen Pinkos-City Manager kpinkos@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

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

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

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

Councilperson Motoyama lmotoyama@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

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

Will Council Continue to kick the can down the road?

The next City Council Meeting will be at 5pm on June 1, 2021. The packet is here. The agenda includes the Budget for 21/22 and the TRAN!. The Tran paperwork starts at page 61 and the Budget paperwork starts on page 174.

Join Via Zoom 1. https://zoom.us/j/91849369987?pwd=b3FJTGk2WTRaNThTVGVORmxsOVNuQT09

Meeting ID: 918 4936 9987 Password: 922486 or Dial in: 1-408-638-0968

This is a very important meeting and we encourage everyone to attend and make public comment. It is best if you can make it in person but if you cannot you can send it your comment to the city clerk at cityclerk@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us. You should write in the subject line the item number on the agenda 7A for the TRAN and 7B for the financial update and 7C for the 21/22 budget. You can also write in not on the agenda if your comment is for something else.

Please note this meeting starts at 5pm!

A few talking points

A few potential talking points

When is City Council going to demand real data? There are no structural cuts included in this budget. At the last town hall meeting the Mayor requested a list of cuts.

Is the Council okay with waiting until September to even get a list of cuts? That is what was stated in the last FAB meeting.

Is El Cerrito going to make structural cuts or just ride the bailout money for a bit? Is there going to be a real effort to get community response if there are cuts?

Are Council Members confident with the information provided for the TRAN financing?

The 5 year budget shows an immediate decline. Are council members going to continue to kick the can down the road?

How long will the City Council let the City Manager and Finance Director mismanage El Cerrito?

At the May 25, 2021 Financial Advisory Board Meeting the ineptitude of the Finance Director reached new lows. 

  1. Last month FAB recommended that the budget not consider the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds and establish a one million dollar surplus without it.  The Finance Director presented a five year budget using the 2.4 million to create the surplus.
    The Finance Director specifically indicated the ARPA funds would not be included in the calculation for this year’s surplus, however, you can see above the budget with the $2.4 million bailout money.  You can see the full 5 year forecast here. In the cash flow document he does not show the bailout money but he also does not show the TRAN payment. The way he presents the data is deceptive and confusing.
     
  2. At the May 8th Budget meeting, Mayor Fadelli asked that the staff come back with $1 million in cuts. Per the Finance Director, at this meeting, in the next SIX months Management Partners is going to come up with a list of cuts. Management Partners has been under contract with the city since June 2020. Why will it take them that long to develop a list? Their current contract ends before September so why are they producing deliverables afterwards? The scope of their agreement not only included the deliverables, but included the duration. Either way, the Finance Director and City Manager are responsible for the performance of the Contractor.
  1. Another year has gone by and the Finance Director and City Manager have not delivered on promised and required reductions in expenditures.  They are now discussing making the necessary $1 million of cuts a year a year from now in FY 22/23. If they do not make that cut the reserve will immediately drop to 8.8%.
  1. The City is also ignoring the requirement for an additional emergency disaster reserve fund (EDRP) of $6 million which was supposed to be funded at 1 million a year for 6 years. This is something FAB pushed hard for a few years ago. And like many financial policies it has been ignored. 
  1. One of the members asked about how cuts happen. The chair said the Council would direct the City Manager to work with the Departments and identify cuts.  Council is supposed to take the list and make a decision. But we are now in a situation where the Mayor requested this happen and it is not happening. So is that not an issue with the City Manager’s job performance? What happens at your job when the boss requests something and does not receive it?
  1. Once again the Finance Director was not able to give a coherent explanation of the TRAN costs. If we borrow 8.5 million and pay back 8.75 it seems pretty clear our costs are $250k. 

Both the Finance Director and the City Manager are blatantly ignoring direction from the City Council. We can argue that the City Council needs to give super specific instructions with specific direction and deadlines. 

What we are seeing is that the City Manager won’t make cuts, the Council won’t make the cuts, and Management Partners will come back in 6 months with the same cuts they provided last year and suggest them again. And in the meantime more time passes with no cuts. And the Finance Director is saying “we run a tight ship”.  “We are turning the corner.”

We must ask the City Council what their standard is for financial stewardship for El Cerrito and how long they are willing to wait for said monetary/fiscal stewardship?

How long will The Council allow the City Manager and Finance Director mismanage the city? I get they have been trying to be supportive but the insubordination and incompetence cannot be ignored anymore. It was 2018 when the independent auditor first brought up this financial crisis and barely anything has been done as El Cerrito is climbing up the list of cities on the verge of bankruptcy.

The buck needs to stop somewhere and it stops at the City Council.

The next meeting is Tuesday June 1, 2021. Please call or write in with public comment and let The City Council know what you think of the job performance of the City Manager and Finance Director. The link to the meeting will be found here.

More of the same from Council and Staff

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

  1. 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.
  2. Councilpersons Rudnick and Motoyama continue to ask good questions. Councilperson Rudnick particularly pushed the Finance Director on some issues. Good for her.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.