2009 Mayoral Promise Number 1: Finance and Budget Assessment

In her inaugural address as the new Mayor of the City of Rockville on November 22, 2009, Phyllis Marcuccio made the following statement, the first promise of her new administration:

First, I would be remiss if we did not respond to the major issue of our recent election:  the unprecedented economic stress facing our nation and our city for the next several years.  I will within the next two weeks appoint a task force on finance and budget, whose initial charge will be to review and comment on our financial policies, principles, and current processes of the City budget for consideration by the City Council.  I will call for their report by the end of March in 2010.

What Happened

Let’s see what’s happened point-by-point (reordered to simplify analysis):

a.  I will within the next two weeks appoint a task force on finance and budget.

Two weeks from November 22 was December 6, but the creation of the Finance and Budget Task Force did not occur until December 14 on a 4-1 vote (moved by Mark Pierzchala, seconded by Bridget Newton, opposed by Piotr Gajewski) with discussion about the scope of work, member qualifications, and city resources required.   The members were appointed on January 11, 2010 on a 4-1 vote (moved by Mark Pierzchala, seconded by Bridget Newton, opposed by Piotr Gajewski) with discussion about the scope of work, application process, and member qualifications.

Committee members were:

  • Leonard Briskman
  • Marika Brown
  • Paul Clark
  • Jim Coyle
  • Beryl Feinberg
  • Richard Gottfried
  • Rebecca Kanin
  • Paul Newman
  • Mark Pierzchala, chair
  • Jonathan Smith
  • Art Stigile
  • Jeff Weber

This task was completed in 50 days, rather than 14.

b.  I will call for their report by the end of March in 2010.

The Task Force presented a ten-page interim report on April 5, 2010 with a target date for completion in June.  The report provided an overview of the work plan, areas of review, hypotheses, findings, issues to investigate, and approaches to resolution for three sub-committees:  financial policies, budget process, and budget book.  The 28-page final report was given to the Mayor and Council on September 20, 2010.

This task was completed 173 days (5 months, 20 days) later than expected.

c.  Whose initial charge will be to review and comment on our financial policies, principles, and current processes of the City budget for consideration by the City Council.

The report’s Executive Summary provides a very useful overview of the work of the Task Force:

There are 57 recommendations across the three sections. The Financial Management recommendations seek to hold Rockville to a higher standard and introduce some additional rigor. A signal contribution is in how the General Fund reserves are calculated. The Budget Process recommendations seek to inform the budget-making process with much better contextual information. Also it seeks more citizen input at an earlier time in the process as well as to make the process more user-friendly to the lay person in the form of simplified materials and definitions. The Budget Book recommendations aim to make budget-decision tradeoffs more apparent. They also give numerous suggestions for making budget data more understandable.

and provides the following Next Steps:

The Task Force recommends that City Staff review this final report in preparation for a Mayor and Council work session. The objective of the City Staff review is to estimate cost, level of effort, and time frame for implementation of these goals. With that information, Mayor and Council can make informed decisions concerning Task Force recommendations. The Task Force recognizes that City Staff has already begun making changes to the Budget Process and the Budget Book presentation. The Task Force recognizes that only the Mayor and Council can make changes to the Financial Management Policies.

Analysis

Mayor Marcuccio missed her scheduling targets by quite a bit and no doubt it was a bit ambitious to believe that a project of this size and scope could be completed so quickly.  She receives high marks for being ambitious and establishing a schedule, but having served several terms on Council, she should have a much more realistic sense of what’s possible to accomplish under these conditions.

More serious is that the first item on her inaugural agenda failed to make much of a difference.  The recommendations of the Task Force are reasonable, thoughtful, and worth serious consideration, but the project tripped on the finishing line.  At the September 20, 2011 meeting, the final report of the Task Force was not listed as a separate agenda item to mark its significance but in the catch-all Old/New Business that included a lengthy discussion on school overcrowding.  The Task Force decided not to give a presentation, with the result that the City Council addressed it for about two minutes and without any thanks to the citizens that participated or an acknowledgement of report’s value and contribution to the City.  Mayor Marcuccio did not even mention that she was responsible for initiating this effort or recognize Councilmember Pierzchala for championing her project on Council.  That evening, however, the Council had endured nearly five hours of discussion on Red Gate Golf Course, a historic district designation, a zoning text amendment, budget survey tools, thirty-four speakers during Citizen’s Forum, and an executive session on a business relocation.  It was nearly midnight when the Council heard this item and they were clearly tired, so even if they discussed it at length following a presentation, it could not have garnered their best and highest attention.

So if not that evening, when?  As Mayor Marcuccio reminded Council: “just because you’ve done the Task Force report doesn’t mean it’s identified as acceptable.”

Alas, nothing seems to have happened.  This was Mayor Marcuccio’s ball to carry, but over the next six months and twenty-two meetings that followed, she didn’t take it very far.  During that time, the City Council held work sessions with the Communications Task Force and Board of Supervisors of Elections and on the Water Resources Element and Municipal Growth Element, and began public hearings on the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, but they did not discuss, approve, reject, or “identify as acceptable” any of the recommendations of the Finance and Budget Task Force.  So in the final analysis, Mayor Marcuccio’s #1 promise was delivered superficially and she let others do most of the work.

Inaugural Promise Score

2 out of 10

Corrections and Clarifications

July 31, 2011:  I discovered that I had inadvertently entered 2011 for the dates of the report’s completion when it should have been 2010 (jumping around three years to track this issue is dizzying).  I’ve made the correction to the post above without any notation since it doesn’t affect the the findings and indeed, it now makes sense.  There are 173 days between November 22, 2009 and September 20, 2010.  I previously had September 20, 2011 (which would have added 365 days for a total of 538 days).

July 31, 2011:  In my review of the City Council minutes, I missed the worksession with the Finance and Budget Taskforce on February 14, 2011, which occurred 147 days (4 months, 25 days) after the Task Force’s final report.  Yikes!  I wanted to post this correction as quickly as possible so I haven’t had a chance to watch the council meeting video, but the Minutes record that there was major discussion on improving user fee policies and increasing the general fund reserve when an enterprise fund is in debt, with a closing remark,  “There was broad discussion between the Mayor and Council and staff on the proposed recommendations and implementation of recommendations of the Finance and Budget Task Force.”  So, does that mean no action was taken by the Mayor and Council?

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7 responses

  1. Max,
    Thanks for covering this issue. Since I served on the Task Force, I do want to make one observation. The reason the TF did not ask for the opportunity to present the Report to the M & C was the fact that the City Staff completed a full analysis of the Report with suggestions for action. The Task Force felt it would be a waste of time to simply provide the report to the M & C given the excellent staff analysis. We recommended a work session where the members of the Task Force could participate in the discussion. Unfortunately, during the “work session” none of us were asked a single question. This is despite months of work by dedicated TF members. The signal the Mayor sent by this neglect speaks for itself.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jim. Your participation on the Task Force provides a valuable insider perspective. It wasn’t clear to me from watching the Council meeting why the Task Force decided not to make a presentation on the final report–I was guessing it may have been the late hour or there wasn’t room on the agenda. So waiting for a work session when the Task Force could be part of the discussion makes complete sense. And thanks for telling me there was a work session. I didn’t see it in my initial review but I’ve made a correction in the original post above (but for better or worse, it hasn’t changed my final opinion on the fulfillment of this Mayoral promise).

  2. Max –

    In my opinion the only relevant issue here is whether or not the Mayor sought to accomplish the types of financial reforms discussed during the campaign. The logistics of start and end dates along with task force dynamics don’t mean much in contrast to the more lofty financial reform goals.

    I’m much more interested In your view as to whether or not this Mayor and Council did the right thing when it comes to actual spending decisions.

    Jonathan

    1. Thanks for your observations, Jonathan. I am very interested in whether the Mayor and Council is making good spending decisions (indeed in my professional work, I specialize in non-profit planning and strategy, and decision-making is a key aspect) but that will take much more analysis, plus there are shortterm and longterm considerations. My sense is that our Mayor and Council (and other elected officials) are very sensitive to the election cycle, and in Rockville, that means they’re thinking in a horizon of two years or less. The result is often to promote tax cuts or immediate capital improvements to gain votes and support at the next election, even though they may have serious longterm impacts (such as decreased revenues and increased expenses for maintenance for years to come). It’s not that they’re opposed or unable to thinking longterm, but it’s easier to let the next Council (or Congress) deal with it. But yes, you’ve identified a great topic for discussion and I’ll see how I can tackle it appropriately (I may have to do it around specific topics). Stay tuned!

  3. theresa defino

    Good, detailed analysis and important information filled in by Jim. I concur with Jonathan, and would add an observation. The mayor has shown consistently odd–and in some cases poor–judgment in financial decisions. I think immediately of her vote to continue subsidizing Red Gate despite a report indicating it has really no hope of ever covering its costs, and voting against items like paving and snow removal contracts.

    Red Gate continues to cost us taxpayers close to $50,000 a month. if that’s fiscal responsibility I’ve got a bridge…

    1. Perhaps I could do an analysis of the Red Gate Golf Course. It certainly consumes a lot of the Council’s time and has been a major issue in the community for years. But we all know I’ll be walking into hornet’s nest–no matter what I say, I’ll get stung. Let me think about this. I still have to live in Rockville. 🙂

  4. You can leave Red Gate alone if you’d prefer but I predict it is a VIP issue in the election. As I noted, there are other questionable financial decisions on contracts, etc., worthy of scrutiny.

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