Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Budget Machinations

I am glad I withheld my initial reaction to the July 15 Council meeting When Chief Vasquez dropped his "20% pay raise" budget bombshell. Let me say before anything else, I am glad the officers got the raise. In a gosanangelo.com comment that day, I predicted they would get 7, maybe 10%, deservedly so. Where do I keep misplacing that Karnak turban?

The process was ugly, no two ways about it. I have spoken to most of Council since, I can reliably report "stunned" would be an understatement. This was not a reasoned negotiation, this was a parliamentary mugging. Only the Mayor and Councilmembers Farmer and Silvas spoke that day. Farmer took the time to do the math and state a dollar amount and expressed her shock that Chief Vasquez seemed to expect Council to act that day absent any prior notice. Mr. Silvas, the "new kid on the block" went into a statement which, while trying to offend no one, he agreed really boiled down to, "Why the heck am I hearing about this for the first time today?". Other members told me they had stayed silent because they were so angry at this "ambush" they did not trust themselves not to say something they would later regret.

It is a safe consensus, our public safety personnel got this raise in spite of, not because of, the Vasquez presentation.

I have watched the video of that meeting several times. Jerry Sea, of the WTOS and NAACP spoke for the raise, but mentioned "This is the best City Council we have ever had". I wholeheartedly agree, 30 years of seeing them come and go, some tried, some flat lied to us, and current Council is dealing with problems unfairly dumped on them. This I state plainly: Council AND staff (we also, in my opinion, have the best City Manager we've ever had) passed a small miracle in this new budget.

Council, by ordinance and Charter change, has made the budget process more responsible and transparent than ever before. This Council did not deserve the ambush Vasquez set for them. It is to Council's credit that they overlooked the political insult and gave our officers what they rated.

Understand, we have a significant change in local government. I was in the trenches against the "ol' boy club". Folks, that is done. The oldest "rats in the barn" are Mayor Lown and Councilman Morrison, each starting their third. They are part of the cats who ran the rats OUT of the barn.

Capital Improvements is one such; we moved this, with approval of the voters, from ordinance and procedure, to required by Charter. It is new, as is the SAPD "Meet and Confer" process. In the process, some time will be lost as the bureaucrats set rules by which they play. I am inclined to give all parties, City Manager, Police Chief, City Council, a good amount of latitude for the mechanics of making reforms effective.

All that said, the cops got a raise, the Council dodged a bullet, this is as good a chance as Council will ever have to say "OK, Rookie mistakes get a pass BUT...never again". God's honest, a lot of people spent a lot of time and trouble making these budget reforms come to pass. Not picking on SAPD's somewhat unique position with an elected Chief, EVERY city department needs to be put on notice, get your requests in on time, with numbers to support them, or you will be SOL until the next year's budget.


  1. There are two points that need to be made clearer. First, doing a good city budget is a long, hard, time consuming process. There are many steps and milestones that have to be made in the process. It is especially hard keeping the public informed and involved.

    Second, a city budget is always a balancing act. There are always trade offs. Do we raise salaries or do tennis courts? How do we spread out the raises? Do we get new vehicles or hire more mechanics? All of these questions need to be answered by the end of August each year. Capital budget proposals have to be presented 5 months out (it's in charter). CDBG proposals start soon after that. The Public Safety budget needs to be ready right after the CIP. It needs to be a tightly coordinated budget and needs to include everything, especially salary recommendations.

    All budget proposals need to be presented early enough that they can be compared completely and fairly

  2. I supported the last bonds. This time the plan is extremely flawed and needs to be defeated. You have read my reasons and the objections of others posted at gosanangelo.