The Citizen Budget Committee – A Citizen Oversight of Council and Staff

The Citizen Budget Committee – A Citizen Oversight of Council and Staff

What is the City’s Budget Committee?

According to Oregon state law (ORS 294.414), cities including Ashland are required to establish a Budget Committee to act as a fiscal advisory group to the City Council.  The committee is made up of members from local government and an equal number of appointed citizen members. The City of Ashland’s 14-member budget committee consists of seven elected officials and seven citizen appointees.

What is the purpose of the budget committee?

The primary role of the committee is to ensure that expenditures do not exceed revenues and that the overall budget is consistent with the service priorities of the Mayor and Council and with the values of the community. The culmination of the budget committee’s work is to set the city’s tax levy and recommend the budget to the City Council.  Refer to http://www.ashland.or.us/CCBIndex.asp?CCBID=200

In December, 2016, the City Council under the direction of the mayor, delayed appointment of a citizen to fill a vacancy on the budget committee until January because council members wanted to interview the applicants for the position.  The Council required the additional time to better vet the applicants, a common and necessary practice of the Council.

However, a second seat on the committee opened up, and the Council received five applications in late April.  Council members all understood that this would require fast turnaround; contacting and interviewing applicants needed to be expeditious because a deadline loomed: Budget meetings were scheduled for May.

Here is what apparently happened:  Four of the five candidates (whose applications can be viewed on the city’s website) were never contacted.  Neither councilors nor the mayor called or met with these four candidates. Reviewing their qualifications, they are clearly well qualified; but an interview would still be needed.  The person who was ultimately appointed by the Council to fill the seat stated on his application, “I have no experience with government entities and budgets.” And, “Not having a background in city government, [some training would be helpful].”  At least three of the four dismissed candidates did have the crucial experience the new appointee lacks.  With budget meetings scheduled to begin next week, an appointee with government and budget experience would seem to be the more obvious choice.

Unfortunately, this Council seems to feel that appointing the candidate with the least amount of experience is the wisest choice, which makes absolutely no sense.  Those who were overlooked have serious questions about the appointment process and reasonably wonder why they were overlooked and why no one from the Council or the Mayor’s office even bothered to contact them for an interview. What is going on here?

Carol Voisin

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