Source: Sherman Publications

Letter to the Editor
City has history of budget problems, reader says

February 13, 2013

Dear Editor,

The quotes from the city manager, “It’s just a matter of paperwork” and “Oftentimes it’s a matter of making an incorrect journal entry” sound like there are errors being made by the city staff and yet city employees just received substantial unbudgeted raises at the recommendation of the city manager ("Auditors call for more oversight," Feb. 6).

We all know the city manager is by law responsible for the budget and control of expenditures and that the City Council, on behalf of the people they represent, is supposed to make sure the city manager is doing his job correctly. It appears none of this is being done.

I know from the public record the problem of spending first and budgeting later is not one of paperwork but is instead intentional, planned, and with the approval of our elected council representatives.

The city auditor and several past council members have raised this issue, but the city ignores them, law and charter.

City Charter Section 7.13 requires that the audit be presented to the Council and made public. If not for a story in The Clarkston News, there would be no public notice from the city that this audit exists and we would not know what it says. It is again not on the agenda for the next City Council meeting.

My understanding is the auditors found approximately $20,000 of unaccounted funds. Doesn’t the City Council want to know how this money was lost? I know I do. Section 7.7 of the City Charter requires that no money be drawn from the treasury and no obligation for expenditures be incurred “except pursuant to the budget appropriations.”

But as the article points out, the city regularly spends first and considers budget appropriations later. Read the official City Council meeting minutes and you will find numerous instances where expenses are authorized with no mention of the cost or where the money will come from.

Bills are then approved without question even when the expenses were never authorized. Only then will the budget be amended, maybe, with the last two amendments containing errors and misleading information. The council approved both of them with few questions and no changes.

The city budget is supposed to let people know how their money will be spent. That is why a public hearing is mandatory when establishing the budget. A public hearing is also required prior to establishing the annual tax rate but the city doesn’t bother with that and just sets it at the maximum possible.

Unfortunately there are far more problems than this but they probably all stem from a city manager and council that have little respect for law, City Charter, the people they serve, and our money that is entrusted to them.

Cory Johnston

Clarkston City Councilman, 2005-2009