Mr. Runkel’s article “Budget Secrets” in the Chronicle is superb. Please read it. Mr. Runkel has done so much for our town and continues to do so. His comments reminded me of the previous budget cycle and inspire my comments.
The purposeful restrictions on what the Citizens’ Budget Committee (CBC) could ask, what data they could see, who they could talk to, and what they could discuss should never be employed again. The factors behind the way the previous budget process was conducted and the hampering of the CBC may never be revealed, but the Committee must be fully empowered. The public deserves to have their right of oversight over budget decisions restored by having a CBC that has its fullest scope of functioning. Mrs. Chan did much to bring the reporting of our finances into line with accounting standards and to restore clarity to our current budget. Now Ashland residents need to have the opportunity to comprehend what our true situation is, what has been accomplished, and what needs further attention. Fully empowered citizen members of our CBC who can think independently are essential for it to represent the public’s interest as they were meant to do.
As we tackle putting our governmental house in order, the committee must be reconvened with members like Dave Runkel who are willing to ask crucial questions about the details of the budget and our city government. For instance, I would like to hear the dozen or so possible spending cuts Citizen members were not permitted to present for all of us to consider their value. We need to give the CBC plenty of time to study the budget in an unfettered way and to incorporate questions from the community. I do not want another budget process to happen in a crisis mode that is not up to par partly because sufficient time was not allotted.
Honor the commitment to have the CBC meet regularly in both years of the biennium. That was a promise made in public by our previous Mayor and City Council but not fulfilled. This will not be able to be applied to the decisions about to be made for the coming fiscal year, but the CBC should be reconvened in the next month or two. It might take another year or two to get a good plan in place to address our structural imbalances and begin to implement it. Democracy rests on potent checks and balances. The CBC is one of those for Oregonians. The CBC should be as active as possible in this course correction.
So I thank Mr. Runkel and everyone who is fighting for accountability, efficiency, fiscal solvency, and participatory democracy. That mandates government institutions which operate with utter respect for the public by building in robust self examination, complete adherence to the letter and spirit of the law, and extensive facilitation of public participation. My belief is that Ashlanders changed our Charter to stand up for these principles. Reconvening the CBC for regular meetings is a first step to stay the course.
Gwen Davies, Ashland