(from David Chenoweth)
This past week I attended as much of the budget review as possible. For the most part, it appeared to be good public service work by the City Council and the City Staff. The pressure to match revenues with expenditures was probably enormous considering the projections of lower revenues.
No doubt, Richardson is the best place to live in the area. When discussing local politics with customers a common question I ask is "Given a choice, would you rather live in Garland or Richardson, or for another comparison, Plano or Richardson?” No one has ever responded that they preferred either Plano or Garland to Richardson. This would indicate to me that Richardson does many things correctly. You will probably agree.
Everything done appeared to be good until the last topic of the last evening, late into the night. After 10:00 pm, when almost everyone had already gone home, the "City of Richardson Storm Water Utility" presentation was given. One of the main points of this presentation noted that approximately $1 million in the General Fund would be up for grabs for other items. The "grab" for these funds were made by Mayor Slagel before this presentation was even concluded.
Though shocked at the time, in reflection these actions were not surprising considering Mayor Slagel's reputation, his past, and the ever present dark cloud hanging over his head concerning conflicts of interest. What was surprising was that almost everyone on the City Council appeared to agree that it was a good idea for this money to be allocated to Mayor Slagel's developer buddies. As I remember, Bob Macy said he had no opinion and didn't really know that much about those things and would defer to the Mayor Slagel's desires. Steve Mitchell's response seemed to indicate that if this money was used for the purposes Mayor Slagel proposed, there should be strong and thorough oversight.
It is hard to remember every word spoken, but I believe that is a very fair representation of what occurred during the three nights of the budget discussions.
Common sense would indicate to me that false pretense reined over these three days of budget discussions. I lay the blame for those false pretenses directly on the City Manager Bill Keffler, and Mayor Slagel.
In review, the City Council and the city staff are gathered to discuss a budget where there is an expected budget short fall. The purpose of the budget meetings is to close that expected budget short fall by means of spending three days discussing freezes, cuts and fee increases. In order to effectively and properly conduct these discussions, the "City of Richardson Storm Water Utility" expense should have been the very first thing to follow "We need to look for ways to bridge the budget short fall".
The false impressions created by the apparent collusion of the City Manager and the Mayor increased the intensity and urgency to increase fees, make other cuts and freezes in order to bridge the gap between revenues and expenses. Reserving this presentation for last, rather that putting it forward at the start of the budget process is dishonest and dishonorable behavior.
Believing this chain of events to be just happenstance is made more difficult by Mayor Slagel's speedy "grab" for the money before the discussion on the "City of Richardson Storm Water Utility" was completed.
We appear to be back to "business as usual" with Mayor Slagel and City Manager Bill Keffler saving the "best for last,” that being the General Fund's $1 million that could now be used for "treats for developers" (land swaps, infrastructure and roads built for private developments at city expense, extra incentives for established developments when Slagel's large campaign signs are hanging all around the leasing office of the developer and campaign committee member...II Creeks comes to mind). The rest of you on the City Council and City Staff certainly know your places and played along as expected.
Is it any wonder that people are so scornful of some City Council actions and contemptuous of some members?
Should any of you feel the need to defend Mayor Slagel's behavior in this instance, it is my feeling that you would risk earning the same contempt Mayor Slagel has already earned for himself.