I have been asked to provide my insights on council-administration interaction issues raised by Roger Neumaier upon his resignation as Finance Director. Actually, I would prefer moving on and am looking forward to a productive year. But given the nature of the concerns, a response seems appropriate.
My involvement in politics has taught me that we can never control what is being said about us or the perception one has regarding our performance. As elected officials to our legislative branch, council has the fiduciary responsibility to be the gate-keepers of the city’s coffers. Council approves budgets, budget amendments, and financial statements/reports. We also need to enact, revise and implement new codes, policies, ordinances and resolutions. Most importantly, providing oversight to these policies is a critical council responsibility.
City officials should expect questioning when items pop up that represent significant change, come as a surprise or do not appear correct.
As a recent example, the 2012 Audited Financial Statements indicated that a $4,965,000 receivable was removed from our city’s books and the offsetting payable was removed from our component unit – PFD (Public Facilities District or mostly known as the Edmonds Center for the Arts). This removal nearly doubled the “apparent” net position (worth) of the PFD, thus changing many ratios, as well as the nature of the obligation.
Upon discovering this change and recognizing the potential seriousness of its implications, I questioned the administration and sought outside opinions from our State Auditor and the technical advisers from the Government Accounting Standard Board (GASB) among others. While the administration may have not agreed to the level of detail or extent of my questioning, in the end hundreds of hours were spent by council, the administration, bond counsels and the Public Facilities District officials in attempting to understand this change.
Based on the feedback received, we now are currently working on restating the financial statements so that we continue reporting the PFD’s payable and the city’s receivable just as we have done for the previous 11 years. It is worth noting that had the proposed change been vetted through council initially, a great deal of time and effort may have been saved. Still, we got it right which is most important to the Edmonds’ taxpayers.
While we have all witnessed a certain level of controversy or stress among councilmembers (amongst ourselves and with administration), compare it to your own passionate family, friends and co-workers. Do you always agree with one another? Now imagine that those disagreements are displayed publicly. Have you ever witnessed a Congressional hearing? No doubt, we’ve all experienced — in hindsight — wishing we said things or approached situations differently. I prefer not to comment about the recent rhetoric that is being promulgated, other than to recognize that everyone has a right to feel the way they do.
Everyone has varied perspectives shaped by their background, education and life experiences. I for one have witnessed a lot since helping reform the banking systems in Lithuania and Kazakhstan, as well as investigating the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s (in which we sent the once-respected financier, Charles Keating, to jail). I don’t know many who can say they had a gun pointed at them while being told to change a financial audit; which I did not change! My point being that, I am not easily deterred when I feel in my heart that the best interests of Edmonds’ citizens are at stake. I’m quite sure that each of my fellow councilmembers feels similarly, despite that we may not always agree on issues. What some may perceive as a robust deliberation or disagreement — others might view as aggressive behaviors. When issues carry significant consequences, passions run deep and sometimes feathers get ruffled. Yet, that doesn’t mean we don’t hold each other in high regard.
Personally, I was sorry to hear of Mr. Neumaier’s resignation. As stated previously, he did a wonderful job with this year’s budget and I felt we were developing a positive rapport that would bode well in the coming years. His resignation was his personal decision. I believe I speak for all councilmembers when I wish him well in his future endeavors. It is also my hope that my fellow councilmembers and I will continue to work pragmatically together this year on behalf of the Edmonds’ community’s interests.
— Diane Buckshnis, President
Edmonds City Council