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6 keys to understanding what the heck happened at city hall on Tuesday

It was certainly one of the more interesting common council meetings last Tuesday to say the least. A whole lot of people showed up to voice their support for the Creative Connections Arts program and for the ad-hoc volunteer efforts led by Mayor Ann Thane to paint murals over various public structures blighted by graffiti or disrepair. Emotions were running high and things were a little tense. The proposed resolution to require council permission before any mural was painted on city property didn’t come up in committee discussion and wasn’t on the agenda to vote on. So it seems that the arts won the day. But I am sure this is hardly the end of the story. What happened Tuesday was the culmination of a bunch of different long running issues that are going on at city hall, ones that will continue to play out for at least another year. Here’s my take on what’s going on, and hopefully this may help you understand the bigger picture that puts last Tuesday in perspective.

1. The protestors weren’t misinformed and they were justified in feeling threatened

Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler said the protestors were there under “false impressions.” While technically, Diane never said specifically that she wanted to close down the arts center or stop all murals, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion based on what she posted on Facebook – details of which I confirmed with her in person the same day she posted it.

In her post, Diane complained about the amount of money spent to repaint the flag mural at Kirk Douglas Park. She asked, “Where does it stop??”

The fact that there was a resolution in the works that would have allowed the council to stop mural paintings and maintenance is not in question. Mayor Ann Thane revealed the email exchange between the city clerk and corporation counsel about it on her blog last week.

Diane further questioned the viability of the arts center by asserting “the fact that the arts center is being covered by the taxpayers and is not self sustaining.” When I asked her if she had seen the actual inflows and outflows of the arts center, she said she had not.

Diane said in her post, “We cannot afford to maintain our own city properties, now we are adding to that list with murals and art centers.”

Call it an inference if you like, but I don’t think you can blame anyone for feeling like the murals and arts center were in danger.

2. The council is now questioning the spending of money they’ve already approved during the budget process

Any money spent on the arts center comes out of the recreation department budget. That budget was approved by the common council earlier this year. All receipts are audited regularly by a member of the common council, that’s how Diane knew about the expense to repaint the mural. Everything is very well accounted for, but yet we continue to hear calls for “accountability” and further spending decreases. Why is this?

One possible explanation is to look at how this year’s budget process unfolded. Earlier this year, the common council passed a budget with a number of cuts to the mayor’s proposed budget. Clearly, the council’s goal was to keep taxes flat, and they achieved that. However they did so by asking for an across the board 1% reduction in all department’s spending.

I think it’s very possible that the arbitrary budget reductions may have given us a budget that kept taxes flat, but may not be realistic.

Here’s a case in point. At last Tuesday’s committee meeting, Rob Spagnola said his department’s budget for cutting down vegetation on city owned or abandoned properties will soon be out of money. Why? Because the council asked him to increase the number of workers doing this work from 2 to 5. Now the council wants to find an additional $8,000 to fund the vegetation work through the mid November. Where will they find the money? Who knows?

I predict as the year progresses, more of these situations will come up. And that’s why I think the council is looking for ways curb spending even further than what they were able to achieve during the budget process. I think they are trying to make sure their poorly planned and possibly untenable budget cuts work. Watch this year to see how many times we have to dip into contingency funds or the fund balance to meet expenses.

Another case in point is that at the same meeting, Diane also argued against making a $4600 payment to the Waterfront Foundation to pay for the concerts held there this past summer. The council had previously approved $8000 for Waterfront Foundation concerts for the year. She brought up a problem with a lawsuit that happened ten years ago as justification.

Thankfully, the council approved paying the bill. But not before agreeing to bring in the Waterfront Foundation for some questioning. That leads to our next issue.

3. The council’s use of prosecution style questioning has become intimidating

The city charter gives the council the right to “conduct investigations of any department, board, bureau, officer or other agency.” However the way the council has exercised this right over the past nine months has followed a consistent pattern: make accusations (often based on anonymous sources) then call in department heads to defend against those accusations. We saw this happen repeatedly this year with Recreation Dept. Director Rob Spagnola over the proposed cancellation of the artificial turf installation at Shuttleworth Park, with Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis in regards to eliminating his administrative assistant from the budget, and most recently with Employee Relations Director Bob Reidy. In each case, the department head found himself defending against hostile questioning.

Some of the issues brought up by the council are legitimate. For instance, I think it would be very useful for planning purposes for the revenues and expenses of the recreation department to be broken down on a per facility basis. However, given the “shoot first, ask questions later” style of interrogation being practiced by the council, is it any wonder that many people became alarmed when Diane said she wanted to discuss the arts center, especially given she had already made her opinion known on the issue?

4. The council continues to try to grab executive powers away from the mayor

Another factor in this situation is the council’s continuing effort to assert control over matters that have traditionally been the responsibility of the mayor’s office. The effort started out in the beginning of the year as the council negotiated a contract with golf pro Joe Merendo, and then the four Republican members voted to allow someone other than the mayor to sign the contract. The council retreated from this position just before Montgomery County Supreme Court ruled the resolution violated the charter.

Back in July, Alderman Richard Leggerio suggested a resolution that would require council approval for all spending within the recreation department, even if it was already budgeted for. The resolution did not materialize as even Alderman Ron Barone had to admit that it would be “kinda hard” to tell a department they couldn’t spend within their approved budget.

The most recent resolution that would have required that “no city employee shall use, remove, paint, deface any City-owned property without the written knowledge and consent of the Common Council” was along the same lines. Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis’ opinion on the resolution was that it was “an attempt to direct city employees in their day-to-day actions. The direction of city employees is an executive power belonging to the mayor.”

5. There may be a rift developing within the Republicans

The four Republican council members have stuck together fairly well since the beginning of the year, but I believe we’re starting to see some stress fractures. It may have begun earlier in the year when Diane Hatzenbuhler said that Ed Russo had a conflict of interest in the issue of restructuring the golf commission because his daughter served on the commission. When Diane said he should recuse himself from the vote, Ed fired back that she was out of line. Ed has also, on at least one occasion, cut short Diane’s questioning of Rob Spagnola.

Both Ed and Ron Barone have been staunch advocates of discussing proposed resolutions in committee meetings first before bringing them to a vote. Ed put some teeth to his convictions back in August when Diane’s cell phone ban resolution came up on the agenda. Ed quickly made a motion to table the resolution before any discussion.

When I asked Ed and Ron about Diane’s proposed mural resolution the week before the meeting, both seemed agitated and were dismissive of it. Ron grumbled that he had more important things to worry about than murals.

At the meeting on Tuesday, as Diane was arguing against paying the Waterfront Foundation, both Ed and Ron interrupted her several times saying “pay it!”

I think it’s very possible that the other Republican council members are beginning to become concerned that the increasingly negative public reactions to Diane’s actions are going to start to reflect on them.

Then again, I can almost see a “good cop, bad cop” type of dynamic emerging, and maybe that’s by design. After all it’s only after Diane started talking about a ten-year old lawsuit as grounds to refuse to pay what was budgeted for the Waterfront Foundation, that Ron’s suggestion to bring the foundation in for questioning and “slap them around a little bit” seemed downright reasonable.

I think it’s also possible that this seemingly endless focus on minutiae may serve the purpose of distraction. Multiple FOIL requests by the local paper have been mentioned at two meeting so far, so we know that something must be brewing.

6. Most likely nothing will change until the 2015 election

Mayor Thane read a speech at the beginning of the meeting chiding the council for concentrating on minor issues while ignoring larger issues. She listed several goals that she sees as priorities (including developing a 5 year capital plan, bringing in outside experts to speak at committee meetings, reviewing the progress of AIDA, etc) and called on the council to work more cooperatively with her. This is all well and good. However as long as the Republican council members listen to the residents who complain the loudest and want nothing more than for the council to oppose every single thing the mayor does, nothing will change. If the council actually cooperates with the mayor on anything, they’ll be accused of “kowtowing” in the same manner as previous councils who have dared compromise with the mayor have been treated.

But I think the number of council misfires is starting to add up and the public is starting to take note. I think council members may be sensing the political winds are changing. They may have no choice but to adjust their sails in order to avoid getting shipwrecked before next year’s election season begins.

Photo © iStock/alvarez

About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of AnthemWebsites.com LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

36 Responses to 6 keys to understanding what the heck happened at city hall on Tuesday

  1. Charlie K. says:

    I think this is right on the money, particularly in point number 5. I’m sure the Republican council members purposely named Diane as deputy mayor to needle the mayor a bit, but there’s no way a seasoned politician like Ron Barone can be happy with how Diane is taking every rumor and personal grudge against the mayor and city employees and trying to make “revenge” resolutions.
    The dynamic reminds me of the years when Duchessi was mayor and the Democrats had the majority of the Common Council. One of the Democrats, ironically also from the 4th Ward (what the heck is in the water up there?), was a loose cannon, too.

  2. Alayne says:

    There has been little to no accountability as far as the city’s finances for years. There are rules, laws and policies set forth for reasons, and they should be followed. For the first time in years someone questions this financial fiasco and attempts to make sure laws and rules are being followed and you blast the person for nitpicking. I wish she had been nitpicking years ago and maybe we would know where the city’s finances stand. It’s been years and hundreds of thousands if dollars and still no answers! This is unacceptable!

    • Tim Becker says:

      Alayne, so far Diane’s questioning has had nothing to do with the incorrect accounting procedures that have been used in the past. They’re not even close. So besides the accounting procedures which are in the process of being worked on by the controller (and which Diane has never asked even one question about) can you tell me exactly what rules have been broken in the past?

  3. Alayne says:

    Are you telling me Diane has never asked for details regarding where money has been spent, and sadly been told there are no records of said spending? Rule number one, a paper or efile trail of what the money was spent on , where the money was spent , and when the money was spent. Simple. One has to wonder how are depts. run without it? Rule number two, years of bonding (borrowing) without having any clue what the fund balance is. (And continue to complain the council will not approve borrowing until they do know how the finances stand) These are rules you learn to follow in high school business classes, and basic common sense. As far as the murals, we were just told we cannot afford to keep on two extra seasonal employees for an extra couple of weeks because there is not enough in the rec depts. budget to pay for it, yet there was money to paint the mural. Basic upkeep should come first. Perhaps the director should take this into consideration while compiling his next budget, and the council should pay closer attention to make sure this is done. Sorry, the flag mural is nice and the one at city hall is beautiful, but the other areas would look better with a simple coat of paint.

  4. Rob Millan says:

    Alayne,

    Here we go again with the Anti-Thane Party (because we know they’re not Republicans):

    -the mayor has not once gone over budget, nor has she spent money on items that were not already budgeted for by the Council

    Even locals who have deep-rooted histories of staging tirades of unhappiness against the mayor admit that the Council cannot appropriate money for things and then whine about those things later. They have gone on to say that this treatment of the mayor is flat-out unfair.

    -you cannot argue that the placement of the 4th Ward Alderwoman at the head of the Finance Committee was a direct attempt to suffocate any form of progress, especially given her lack of any business experience acumen; just being a wall.

    Why the County or State GOP haven’t come down on this nonsense is far beyond me, but I find it astonishing the number of Republican supporters this has actually earned her.

  5. Tim Becker says:

    To answer your questions Alayne-
    1) In the past seven months that I have been attending council meetings, I do not know of one instance where Diane has asked for accounting information that she did not get an answer for. I believe the controller has set her up with direct access to read records directly from the KVS accounting system. It may not be *broken down* the way she wants (ie the expenses and revenue for each rec dept. facility), because it has never been kept track of that way. But all the numbers are there. Are *you* aware of any time an accounting question has not been answered?

    2) Who is complaining about not being able to bond? My understanding is we can’t bond until the audits are fixed. At that time we’ll know exactly what the fund balance is. So what’s the issue?

    3) If you re-read my article, you can see that the reason the rec department is running out of money is because the *council* ordered him to add additional employees which the director did not originally budget. Now the council is scrambling to fix a problem of their own making.

    Sorry Alayne, but much of the pontificating in your post is rendered invalid once you understand the facts as to what is going on. Try reading my articles a little more carefully or maybe attending the meetings so you can understand exactly what is going on rather than relying on hearsay to inform you 🙂

  6. Alayne says:

    Believe it or not Tim, Diane has a number of supporters. So you can hop on the bash Diane band wagon if you feel you must, but there are actually taxpayers out there who care if the city’s finances are a hot mess, something by the way, the mayor and her supporters have not concerned themselves with for years! If you have not heard Diane state or read where Diane has stated on
    more than one occasion she has asked for financial documents from a dept, head on numerous occasions and was told they do not exist, then may I suggest you reach out to her. Perhaps you should do your own homework before you insult others. I also wish you would elaborate on the stress fractures, you say are appearing within the Republican party/council. Perhaps you should interview the Republicans who sit on the council as a whole, and ask them about the same before you assume. The political winds are definitely changing, you are correct, but I think the only ship that will be sailing away into the sunset may be the one that has its own dock space that has a sign marked “mayors office”. Please hold on because I have a strong feeling this is only the calm before the storm and before this storm is over there will be a lot of debris to come to the surface.

    • Tim Becker says:

      I’ve talked to Diane in person and through facebook many times Alayne and I’ve listened to her ask a multitude of questions at common council meetings. And you’re telling me to do my home work? Puh-leeze 🙂

      Can you point out when I’ve ever been personally insulting to her or anyone on the council? If one is insulted by a well-researched argument based on facts and first-hand observations, then oh well 🙂

  7. Alayne says:

    The fact is Diane has asked for financial documents that have not been produced. It is your opinion that there is a stress fracture in the Republican council, and the political winds are changing. Period.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Diane has asked for reports on inflows and outflows of individual facilities within the rec department, that is the only information that I know of that she is searching for that she hasn’t gotten a response on. And that is because the accounting system has never been set up to track information that way. There are not separate lines for each facility in the budget. Someone will have to go through past transactions line by line and break them into separate categories. All the numbers are there. There’s no impropriety, she’s simply asking for information in a form that the system is not yet set up to provide. At least that’s my understanding from listening to conversations about it at the meetings.

      Yes, Alayne, this is an opinion article, says so at the top of the page 🙂

    • Tim Becker says:

      *Correction, there are individual expense lines for some of the park facilities, but they haven’t been used in many years. That doesn’t mean expenses weren’t recorded. There are no individual revenue lines for the various facilities that I can see. As I said in my article, it would useful to have per-facility reports, it’s a good idea.

  8. Alayne says:

    A simple Excel spread sheet or an old fashioned ledger would suffice, the fact that none of this is available is what is frightening. The computers not being set up to do this is a laughable excuse! Like I said, no one has asked questions for years, and it is of my opinion, based on the fact the city’s finances are in a disastrous state, and the fact it has cost thousands upon thousand of dollars to get it straightened out, that a lot of folks appreciate Diane’s multitude of questions and hope she continues to ask them!

    • Tim Becker says:

      I’d like an excel spreadsheet of expenses and revenues for your living room for the past 4 years. Not your whole house, just your living room. I want to know how much heat and electric were used by your living room, as well any other maintenance expenses just related to your living room. What, you don’t have those numbers handy? You say you would have to go through a year’s worth of receipts to figure that out? Well what’s wrong with you??? That’s kind of what you are saying 🙂

      I’ll say it one more time, not one of Diane’s questions to department heads have ever had anything to do with the accounting practices being worked on by the controller’s office. Not a single one. You’re comparing apples and oranges.

      • Rob Millan says:

        One time I was on-site for a client who ran their finances on Excel (which, by the way, is NOT a financial or accounting tool… ). It had about 2000+ rows and about 60 columns. Trouble was, with something that big and messy, and of course using the software for something beyond what it was designed for, it always crashed. I mean ALWAYS. And that was with revenue of mere $650,000 a year, not $26,000,000. I can only imagine what that would look like and how frustrating it would be for an expert to try and break that down.

        It became more and more unstable as the year progressed because the client refused to invest in actual accounting software. If you ask me, the city finally got it right in investing in this software especially with the right person managing it.

    • Tim Becker says:

      As I said in my article, many of the questions Diane asks are perfectly legitimate. It’s the way Diane is going about it that is causing hostility and mistrust. Simply put, she needs to get facts first, then form opinions, not the other way around.

  9. Diane says:

    Hi Tim………..I think that it is I who is getting fractured not the council.
    You have quoted our discussions and my various comments mostly accurately. Mostly, because the latest attack by the mayor was on something that was only in partial draft form from a request that I made to the city clerk, on a potential resolution for painting murals on city owned property (taxpayer owned), removing an historical fence from the Milton School property, and the co-oped ding of potential taxable property for an arts center in 2011. (not the current incarnation)

    If you would note the date to GD from the city clerk, it was on the Friday, a week before Labor Day weekend. The response, from GD, came back on Friday a week later, after the resolutions for the agenda were published. I had already dropped it since I had not heard back in regards to the proper language. Of course GD came back and said we were trying to usurp that mayoral authority again, which was clearly not the case.

    Back to 2011, the city is given back a property on East Main that had been leased to St. Mary’s for many years. Instead of having the property assessed and put back on the tax rolls and sold, the mayor took it without council authority and decided to make it into a 501 c3 arts center. She gathered up volunteers to paint and clean and appointed a board of directors, of which Thom Georgia was the head. There were many wonderful plans all working to turn this into an arts center. People were really upset when in the fall of 2012 the mayor completely changed course and now it was going to be a community arts center. (All of this is documented on her personal blog, Amsterdancin’, including snapshots of all the work the volunteers were doing to clean it up, what had been accomplished and what was going to be done.)

    During this time period several times I approached the city council members during the public portion of the meetings and asked them what was going on. There was no accountability, as nothing had been budgeted for, and the property should have been handled thru a resolution, removing it from the city tax rolls and putting it under the direction of the recreation department. This is clearly a common council duty.
    Long story short, to this day that property has never been dealt with properly by the common council, whose duty it is to authorize transfers of city owned property.

    Now mind you all along since there was no budget for this building or activity, money was being used from the recreation budget until the fundraising started for both the arts center and Bacon School.
    I would FOIL the financials. There are many generous donors in our community and without their help these two programs would not have gotten off the ground or continue for that matter.

    During this time the recreation director kept records of the money coming in and what it was donated for. However, I have not seen any list as to where it was used, either for the Bacon School or the Arts Center. The money appears credited in the recreation budget as a revenue, but since much of it is designated, I have requested but not received, a breakdown of the disbursement and to this day, I do not know how it is tracked. I do not believe the money is being misappropriated, but since it is additional monies that are raised for specific purposes, I would like to see what they are being used for.

    I had been requesting a breakdown of all expenses for each park broken out for the previous three years for budgeting purposes. The utilities are all separate accounts for each park and I was told that one of the account clerks keeps them. The director never sees them, he just gets a lump sum at budget time. If I wanted them, I could get them from her, which I did. But, I am of the opinion, and have discussed it with both the controller and the recreation director, that all of the parks need to be tracked separately for budgeting purposes, so we know what each park is costing us. Right now we do not know what each park is costing us, and I think the public/taxpayer has the right to know where their taxes and private donations are being used.

    Other than the mention above when the building being used as the arts center was first taken back by the city and before it became a community arts center, I have not advocated selling it. Even the recreation director told me himself one time it was costing the city money, but I want to see the numbers and the recreation director, under the direction of the mayor has failed to provide the needed information.

    Now to the murals, yes the murals are great and some I like better than others. Art is always personal and if the mayor had her way, we would be covered in murals. But, remember, there can be too much of a good thing.

    Again the mayor does not have the authority to give property to someone to put a mural on. I am simply asking for a sketch of what is planned and where. This is taxpayer property, I am simply asking for accountability of what is being done with taxpayer property… if it is going to be painted by volunteers, then be sure to get volunteers to repaint it, to keep the costs down.

    The fence at Milton School is historic to the site and should be left there. The 8 sections removed are secure and will be replaced. This was something that came out of the blue. I have campaigned on improving our neighborhoods and making the parking area back into a park that will take about three years. This is in my ward, and you would think the recreation director would give me a call to let me know what his plans were, or if I had any for that park………nope, no call. He said it was his idea to move the fence to the garden at the arts center. Great, but how about talking to the elected official that represents the people of that ward ? Better yet, how about talking to the common council and let them in on your plans for all the parks.

    So this is what everything boils down to. Accountability for our parks and recreation department where it is sorely lacking.

    Oh, the story on the concert funds. When the mayor yelled at me and said I should know every single line of the budget, I can assure you I do not. I know the controller knows his account numbers, as he works with them everyday. I don’t. But I did go home and look up this special account that the mayor was claiming as earmarked for the waterfront concerts. It is not, it is marked “Other performing arts, contractual expenses”. The previous budget year, the Waterfront Foundation requested and received an amount of 4500.00 so they would have deposit money for their bands, before their grants and such came in. They were supposed to pay it back. But why would the line say, “Other performing arts”, maybe because the line was not for use by the Waterfront Foundation ?? The foundation is set up to raise funds thru grants, and they received two, one from the Saratoga Performing Arts Council, the Montgomery County Tourism Council, a fundraiser at the arts center or MUNI, and direct donations thru their web site. This has been done yearly since they started having the concerts.

    “Other” in this case, clearly means not something already funded. But we have another issue. The arts funding for the bridge has been cancelled since it was 2 million over budget with all the extra amenities. So now the foundation has added 4 or 5 new members who have been tasked with finding 2 million dollars to pay for the arts on the bridge ! Hopefully they will be able to get a grant. So before the bill was to be paid, I requested to see the financials of the foundation to see if they were actually short the 4600.00 as requested. Any good businessman would ask for this. But not in the city, especially when the mayor has been tasked with getting this artwork for the bridge. Frankly I think it can all go except for the center piece based on the Mohawk Carpets Wheel of life, that is the only piece that has any direct relation to the people of Amsterdam. Who is going to move this art work seasonally, heck, who is going to monitor it so it is not defaced?

    And the comments in regards to the $40,000.00 : the mayor made a personal request for the money from the Emanuele administration at a common council meeting. She may have been the president of the foundation at the time, I am not sure, but she was on their board. However, she was turned down because the foundation would not submit a financial statement to substantiate the need. The money was not forth coming. However, when the mayor was elected, the bill was paid within the first six months if not sooner, of her first term. The council never questioned it. And it was to settle a lawsuit filed by a contractor that had done work for the Riverlink Park. So maybe you can see why I did not want this bill paid until there was some accountability.

    I have attended many council meetings over the years and some I can remember like yesterday, others are just a blur. But anyway, that is my story and I am sticking to it……..sorry it is long. I guess when you look for detail, you write in it too.

    This is all based on my memory or meetings and actions and reports or lack there of in explaining my actions at the last cc meeting.

    And to those that say we are not working on the big things, we are, you just do not hear about it. But I do the audit and I see the numbers. We did not get ourselves in the financial mess we are in overnight. It was a lack of procedures and oversight and I will not let it happen for the next 15 months. All the pennies end up in one big pile and until we know where we stand, we only have the pennies to account for 🙂

  10. diane says:

    Tim, by the way, when I first took office I requested from various department heads inventories of their equipment with dates and ages etc, and the DPW returned an outstanding document. From recreation I have received nothing of what I was looking for, an accounting of vehicles, equipment, dates and ages, numbers, etc, and a list of all parks and their associated costs. Have never gotten anything from recreation. Did you know we pay approx 5000.00 a year to CSX to use that RR crossing at RiverLink Park. There are so many costs associated with the various parks, it is important that we know what they are and how much 🙂

    As for the controller, as soon as he is done with the AUD and the state has accepted it, we will be having a meeting to go over what the state has required and what he said he would do and see where he stands. I have not pushed him since there has been so much going on in the department, there were other things that needed to get done first and foremost 🙂

  11. Tim Becker says:

    See what you are doing with the waterfront foundation now proves my point. You keep following the same pattern and yet you wonder why people are up in arms. You’ve put allegations out there, that you don’t *know* for sure are true, next you are going to try to investigate them and find facts that support your allegations. This will be like the fifth time you’ve done this. I’ll tell you what, I think are actually doing the mayor a favor by giving her perfect opportunities to unify and motivate her base supporters who feel threatened by you.

    No I didn’t know we pay CSX $5000. Should I be outraged? What would you say we should do about it, not pay it? Then we couldn’t have concerts at the park. Is that what you want? Why else would you bring it up? See what I mean?

    And in respect to the conversation with Alayne, I don’t see anything you’ve listed here which would support her claim that there are city financial records that you’ve requested but not received. The Waterfront Foundation is a private organization (but given we subsidize it, I think it’s fair to ask for records, sure.) All your finance related question have to do with why did we spend money on this or that, etc, not anything related to the accounting problems that are being worked on at the controller’s office. Once the work on the past audits are complete, our books will in the best shape they have ever been in.

    Let’s be honest, the “mess” that you refer to is really about that there are bunch of things the city is spending money on that you don’t want the city to spend money on. Whereas I believe it takes spending a certain amount of money – on things like concerts, arts, etc – to make a city attractive. The amount is trivial compared to expenses like sanitation, sewer, water, employee benefits etc. but yet you spend an inordinate amount of time chasing down $100 bills that don’t add up to much of anything. If you had your way and cut the things you have expressed interest in cutting, we wouldn’t be any better off financially as a city, but we would be far worse off as a community.

    • diane says:

      Tim, I do not disagree with you. I brought the cost of the CSX expense up because it never occurred to me that we had to pay to cross. It really boggles my mind sometimes when I see some of the things we have to pay for. And yet to get accurate accounting of what it costs to operate RiverLink we need everything broken down. Last month 1000.00 to clean the tent that still has a filthy roof, and the monies every season to raise and lower the boat docks. People have no idea what it costs to operate the parks and that is why I am so insistent on getting it broken down.

      I do not know why everyone is so concerned about the aldermen tracking what the controller is doing. He is doing his job and doing it to the best of his ability. He came in to a real mess over a year ago, that we had nothing to do with. He has submitted an action plan to the state and has met some of the requirements and working on the others. If I called him everyday along with the 4 aldermen, the poor man would not be getting anything done. His job is to correct the mistakes and keep us informed and he is doing just that. He does not need me looking over his shoulder although he has offered to let us come and follow him and the deputy around for a day. He is doing his job and he is working on solving all the problems in his office. 11-12 has been filed with the state and in the next month or two the others will be filed and hopefully shortly afterwards, we will have some final numbers, until then, we keep dealing with the little things to get them out of the way to deal with the big things that are going to cost money. And bonding will not be easy without a decent bond rating or the interest rates will kill us. It can be a double edged sword 🙂

      As for the concerts we are not suppose to sustain them, they are supposed to support themselves, which is my point.

      • Rob Millan says:

        Diane,
        I’m a little confused. Did you think things were free or that volunteers should provide professional services like structural upkeep?

        Also, those rails and the land they are on are private and owned by CSX. I don’t know the exact deal, but I know that being on that land, including crossing the tracks, is trespassing. I imagine the deal the City struck with CSX is for permission to use that land.

        And I don’t know of anyone that has ‘attacked’ the Controller. By most accounts, people realize he’s doing a hell of a job.

      • Tim Becker says:

        My comments about the controller, which I think Diane is referring to, was about how Alayne was linking Diane’s questioning to the bookkeeping problems (ie the problem we’re paying “thousands” to fix) – and my point was that the two are not related.

  12. Charlie K. says:

    Diane wrote: “If I called him everyday along with the 4 aldermen, the poor man would not be getting anything done.”
    Why doesn’t the same thing apply to the recreation director or director of personnel, who she suggested give an hour-by-hour breakdown of everything he does?
    This is the part that people are getting upset over. On one hand, the controller should be left alone to do his job. Other department heads, particularly ones Diane doesn’t like, get hammered on a daily basis.
    It’s inconsistent, and it backs up Point 4.

    • diane says:

      Hey Charlie,

      There have been many issues that have come up in regards to the employee relations department. There is generally only one time during the year when he is really busy, and that is when the seasonals are hired. There is paperwork, background and drug testing etc that is involved. This happens during one 6 week period of time. The rest of the year is normal daily stuff. He is responsible for many things, including writing the workplace violence manual which has not been done since we were first fined 4 years ago. In the meantime, since July 2011 fines from the state DOL are over 80,000.00 and on the fast tract to 150,000.00 if this is not dealt with immediately. There always seems to be an excuse, and that is why I asked for a desk audit for one week. I thought it was a fair and honest way to find out what this employee does on a daily basis, and what it is that requires a part time employee to request a full time secretary. It has always been a part time position.

      As for the recreation director I am still looking for a report that was requested back in Dec/Jan and has never been supplied. The other departments that were asked did comply with the request with no questions asked including corp counsel GD. Even Tim is in agreement it is something that would be extremely helpful, but the director does not see it that way. I will continue to request the info until it is provided.

      The waterfront foundation, has if I am not mistaken the task of raising funds for their concerts and other things for the waterfront. They have always been able to do so in the past with various grants and fundraisers. Last year, the previous common council even advanced them 4600.00 so they would have deposit money on hand for future events.

      There is a line in the budget “for other ” which means, those that are not already being provided for, such as the dance classes last summer at the arts center. It does not mean in addition too. The city is not a piggy bank for the waterfront foundation, that every time they do not meet their obligations they can come running to the city to bail them out like in the past. By the way, Alderman Leggiero reminded me today, that the foundation had not yet been sued, but was going to be by BBL construction for non payment of services in relation to the Riverlink Restaurant construction. As I stated this was a 40,000.00 bill the city had to pay, 7 years ago and now here is another one. We are not in the financial position to assume their responsibilities in addition to our own.

      I know people think I am going after certain individuals, but I am not. I do the audits every two weeks and see the bills coming thru. As finance chair, I am matching everything that is supposed to be matched. Nothing came with the concert bills other than a statement from the Waterfront. No copies of bills from the vendors or if anything such as deposits had been paid. This was completely ignored, but is/was required of all other submitters.

      Under the charter the council has the authority to investigate entire departments and that is certainly not a place I want to go. But at some point there has to be cooperation from the department heads in justification for certain expenses. People that I talk to want our books straightened out, they want things done properly, fairly and intelligently. That is what I am trying to do, to understand why budgets are out of whack and gain accountability……until there is, I will continue to seek accountability.

  13. Alayne says:

    Most government agencies have programs which track what type of work your doing, and how much time is spent on it through out the day. Perhaps this would make it easier for the couple of dept. heads that have problems doing this on their own, and also help management come up with a plan to assist the dept. head on how to manage their time better.

  14. Robert Spagnola says:

    There has been one piece of information that Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler has asked me for that I cannot furnish, that is who played individual baseball games at Shuttleworth Park and on what days and times they played over the past three years. I told her I can give her totals for each team that played there with their receipt of payment but I never thought it necessary to know that a 13 year baseball team played at noon July 12, 2011. Maybe I should have.

    Alayne, you seem to be a big critic of the Rec Department. Please come to the Recreation Committee meeting next Tuesday at 6pm. The meeting is before the Council and chaired by Alderman Russo. I will be addressing all the Alderwoman’s misstatements that have occurred over the last eight months. I will only be addressing statements of hers that I have in hand proof with her quotes on hard copy. I would also be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about any topic you wish.

    I will also bring to light all the records I do keep and how every penny at the Arts Center and Bacon School is accounted for and how the Alderwoman comes into my office regularly for statements. The City does pay the utilities at the CCAC but Bacon School costs us nothing. I am proud to say to date we have received donations and class registrations that total almost $80,000 not to mention the countless volunteer hours that are priceless. That’s $80k worth of services to community members that have cost taxpayers nothing. I will share a great story Tuesday night at the meeting regarding this.

    I am proud to say I am accountable for everything that goes on in the Recreation Department. For anyone like Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler or Alayne who thinks I am not please feel free to come to the meeting Tuesday night and speak your peace. Do you really think if any Department Head was doing something wrong that Val Beekman, Eddie Russo, Rich Leggiero, Ron Barone or Matt Agresta would sit idly by and just let that occur.

    Alayne, I will be pointing out so many factually inaccurate statements that the Alderowman has made about my Department Tuesday night I hope you attend and also hope that you hold her to the same standards that you want from all others.

    And please your big complaints this week is that we re-painted the American Flag and we worked on Sassafrass Park. Geez, what will you knock next Wishful Thinking and all the kids they help. Oh wait, you’ve already done that too. Hope to see everyone Tuesday.

  15. Alayne says:

    I found your behavior at the last meeting to be very disrespectful. It’s very sad that our city is made a mockery by a few. 99.9% of our city employees present themselves in a professional manner. Thankfully the old addage a few bad apples spoil the bushel does not apply here.

    • Tim Becker says:

      I hardly think Rob’s behavior was disrespectful. Challenging someone when they are wrong with factual information is not disrespect, nor does it deserve to be labelled “insulting”. I thought Ed and Ron interrupting Diane several times when she had the floor was disrespectful.

  16. Robert Spagnola says:

    I really couldn’t agree with you more when you say a small few are trying to make a mockery of our City. Funny you don’t address any of the factual information I am providing. As to your point about me being disrespectful, I find that very amusing also. Everything I said was 100 percent factual, no hearsay, no anonymous sources. All I am doing is holding the Alderwoman accountable for her own comments since she has taken office and I will continue to do so going forward, all of the comments to which I refer to are documented in black and white. Again, please come to the meeting for a genuine discussion on the issues. It will be a great forum for discussion and as I stated I would be more than happy to answer any questions anyone has about any subject. Hopefully Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler feels the same way.

  17. diane says:

    Mr. Spagnola has received numerous requests for financial information since January and It has not been provided . He simply needs to put the reports in a binder for each alderman so we can see where his department gift income is being spent, the cost to operate each park including the utilities, and various other information that I do not need to spell out here, as it has been spelled out numerous times to him in writing.

    He has also been informed that if he wishes to ask any questions of me in public it will not happen. He needs to file a formal complaint with the CRB, the Citizens Review Board, which is the proper channel to go thru. His actions two weeks ago were totally inappropriate and uncalled for. Many people have called to say that the mayor should have put a stop to his comments, instead of sitting up there laughing like a monkey. And these were not people that I knew.

    So with that, Mr. Spagnola just needs to submit the reports requested and we can move on.

    • Robert Spagnola says:

      Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler,
      All I can say is WOW! Your continued personal attacks are amazing. Calling the Mayor a monkey might be a new low. All my comments are and always be based on facts and will never contain personal attacks as yours regularly do.

      I have already answered more questions and been before the Council probably more than anyone in the last ten years combined. For the last nine months as an elected official you have made so many misstatements it’s hard to believe they all have been unintentional. I thought just ignoring you was the way to handle it but I was wrong. I now feel compelled to address all that you have said because I realize all of your negative destructive comments can and are really effecting people’s lives.
      So here we go.
      Again YOUR FACTS ARE INCORRECT!

      Every dollar that comes in to the Recreation Department, grants, donations, sponsorships, class registrations, etc., already comes before the Council in resolution form. The resolution states where the money came from and what the money is being used for. I have no way of accessing any of that money without the Council approving it first. When the money comes to the City it goes in to account
      A 2001″Gifts and Donations” upon Council approval it is then transferred to the Recreation Department for use.

      Regarding utilities in the parks which we have talked about many times. I can’t speak for other departments but I imagine they may be the same. The controllers office keeps all utility information. I never even see a utility bill. The Controller has stated at numerous meetings if anyone wanted the utility bills to ask the appropriate person.

      Lastly, as was explained many, many times at the numerous Common Council meetings I have been requested to attend. In the ten years since I have been Recreation Director there is not a breakdown of expenses per park. There are records kept on the larger projects we do in each park. For example, I have complete records of what was just spent to refurbish Sassafrass Playground. I have complete records on the installation of the turf project at Shuttleworth Park. I have complete records on all the work that was done at Riverlink Park after the flooding. I have complete records on the remodeling of the pool building and so on. I do not keep records and attribute it to a certain park when we buy things such as toilet paper, trash bags, bee spray, weedeaters, paint, grass seed, weedeater string, lumber to repair park benches, flags etc.

      If anyone has any questions or ideas please feel free to come to Tuesday’s Recreation Committee or call me in the Recreation Office.

    • diane says:

      Please, save the repeating of your goals for the council. Our hands are tied since we have no financials to work with, that is not our doing, but your administration.

      Mayor, the fact that the recreation director has been allowed to proceed for, almost 7 years now, under your direct supervision and he fails to provide the cost of operation at each park is beyond me. Your complete lack of financial concern for the taxpayers of our city is mind blowing. And don’t tell me what a tiny one tenth of one percent this is of the budget. Every department must have financial accountability. The fact is this government has been lacking financial oversight during most of your administration. Your continued failure to require that the recreation director keep basic spreadsheets for each of the park’s expenses is outlandish. There has to be financial accountability both from the recreation director and yourself.

      And stop blaming the council for not spending on any capital projects, as we will not spend or bond for anything until the books are finalized, except of course a true emergency.

  18. diane says:

    Money’s that are donated to the city for the past three years come into the city generally with a designation of Bacon or Arts center or whatever, so how do you know you have spent the right amount of
    money on a project if you do not track it ? So what were the funds used for? These were supposed to be used for special programs for the kids, but if you do not supply a report on what the programs are for, who attended, who was hired to teach and provide the numbers for all of that, then how are we the taxpayer to know that the money is being used for its intended purpose ?
    Not too mention, is it costing us more money than we are bringing in?
    I have been asking for this same information for 9 months now and it has still not been presented. Why is it so difficult for you to sit down and draft a spread sheet for each park/ facility and the associated costs. ? And yes, you need to go and get the utilities and record them for each park, on a monthly basis so we can see where taxpayer money is going. Utilities are one of the main drivers with some parks having huge lights on for an enormous length of time. You are the department head and as such, you should be concerned about the total cost to operate a park. You are responsible for providing that information. I do not know why it is so difficult for you to understand a basic request. Why would you not want the actual costs of each park to be known ?
    This is basic accounting 101 to me, you have an expense, you need a revenue to off set it. I have not asked for anything more than that.

    A $400,000.00 budget with a director’s salary of 50,000.00 and a secretary at 30,000.00 should be able to account for everything that comes in and goes out. We have numerous parks that take a lot of time and expense to operate and I want to know what that expense is. Why will you not provide it………and I have asked for it for the past three years so things can be tracked to see where the monies are going. There are no accusations here, just questions with no answers. You should have all expenses broken down for each and every one of the parks.

    Have the boat logs been turned in yet ?

    Rob von Hassln said you were responsible for the spring fling revenues this year, but no resolution has come thru showing a deposit of those funds into any account ?
    Any of the special events that are put on in city parks should be accounted for thru a resolution, so the taxpayer knows there is accountability.

    As for your miscellaneous supplies you set them up as mowing equipment, trash/cleaning supplies, paint supplies, tools etc., whatever columns you need to cost out your department. Lumber for a park bench goes against a bench sitting in a park somewhere.

    Other departments would not need to be worried about utilities when they all share a building. Parks and buildings associated with them, are all on separate meters very easy for you as the department head to obtain. I cannot recall how many times I will have to put this in writing and request this information which goes directly to the cost of your everyday operations. The taxpayers want accountability, in light of our recent financial debacles, that is all I have ever asked for.

    The comments I made in regards to the mayor were made to me by a stranger that called and said that “she looked like a monkey”, not me. I could not even see what the mayor was doing, I was listening to all the comments, attentively, that you and the mayor orchestrated. And requesting people to come to another meeting that will only discuss your department very briefly will be wasting their time not mine. There is a very busy agenda for Tuesday night, maybe you should take a look at it. We will be starting at 530 to accommodate everything.

    • Robert Spagnola says:

      Alderwoman,
      I swore I would never waste my time going back and forth with you on social media but you are so reckless I must.

      1. You have been given all reports regarding all income and expenses from both the Bacon School and the Arts Center. Again all income goes through the Common Council all expenses run through the controllers office. All income and expenses are attributed to corresponding classes, leagues, camps, etc. on the reports you have received. If your reckless implications effect our ability to help one child SHAME ON YOU.

      2. The electricity to run every City park is roughly $35,000 when you take into account all the parks we have the number is minimal. What you would suggest we do charge the little league, girls softball or Little Giants Football for the electricity they use to run their concession stands or power their lights.

      3. Of course Spring Fling money has been accounted for through resolution before the Council, so once again you are incorrect.

      4. You made the comment about the Mayor being a Monkey, why not be ACCOUNTABLE for all the things you have said and done.

      5. Again you make another total incorrect comment. I did not ask one person to come to the Council meeting last week not one. You brought that on yourself.

      I will be there Tuesday to address many issues and I am looking forward to it.

  19. Brian Spagnola says:

    “He has also been informed that if he wishes to ask any questions of me in public it will not happen”. This is really Diane’s quote about Rob. This after nine months of publicly bashing him with incorrect facts. Multiple times publicly accusing him of crimes, once where the police had to come into his office (reluctantly) and ask questions, and when the police asked for her facts, naturally she had none. So she can ask questions publicly but he can’t? I have never seen such a hypocrite in my life. People ask for accountability and rightfully so. How about holding her accountable for the lies and damaging things she has said and done to people. I’ve told rob countless times to end it by filing a suit against her. He would win 100% for sure and has been told that as well. He won’t do it as he doesn’t want to do that to the city but he should as enough is enough. She can say whatever she wants and accuse people of anything but when caled out she is not allowing it?

  20. Tim Becker says:

    Ok, I am closing comments now, we’re rehashing the same points over and over. Thank you all for your comments.