More Budget Secrets from the Council Side of the Budget Committee

Dave Runkel’s article in the Chronicle “Budget Secrets” brings back some memories of Ashland’s Citizen Budget Committee.  This is the most important committee that the city has.  

The Committee is required by state law providing citizen oversight of the budgetary process and the budget.  An equal number of citizens as councilors and mayor are nominated by the council to sit on the committee.  This gives an important set of eyes on how and on what the City spends its taxpayers’ dollars.

While I was on council the citizens serving on the committee were serious about their task – to insure expenditures do not exceed revenues and that the overall budget is consistent with the service priorities of the Mayor and Council.  The appointed citizens were always well prepared, well spoken, civil, and critical when going about their task. 

I for one, appreciated their candor and their critical acumen.  Most of them knew more than councilors about accounting and multi-million dollar budgets.  

When the council changed the budget from an annual to a biennial (every two years) budget, the expectation was clear. The committee would meet on the off year to review departmental budgets in detail.

When the citizens on the committee began planning for these meetings all they received was “push back” from the  mayor, councilors and the administration.  These citizens in frustration asked the state treasury to give the Ashland Citizen Budget Committee a training session.  They did. 

Every citizen on the committee and only one councilor attended the training.  It was clear that the committee could meet in study sessions on the budget on the off year. The push back from the mayor, council and administrator became stronger even when the citizens had clear authority to ask for such meetings.  

The council and Mayor even the administrator wanted rubber stamp citizen participation.  It wasn’t happening.  It should never happen!

What saddened me was that good people resigned from the Citizens’ Budget Committee.  Some were disillusioned by what was going on others just gave up trying to get the city back on track.  This should never have happened.

Dave Runkel, the former chair of the Citizens’ Budget Committee, is one who persevered.  He didn’t let the put downs and the interruptions and insults from the mayor and council phase him.  Even his and other citizen members’ clear warnings about severe issues with the budget were ignored.

We owe Dave Runkel our gratitude for his tenacity and principles upon which he acts.  Let it be known that the council is still ignoring the wisdom of its citizens who serve, as they do, on the CITIZENS’ Budget Committee.

In the eight years that I was on council and since then, I have never seen a citizen member of the committee be anything but be civil.  On the other hand, council members have been downright rude to their fellow citizens during meetings. 

Finally, the new ground rules for the Committee must be required reading for the Council.  To assume that citizens on this Committee aren’t civil and respectful of others is an insult to those present and past members of the Committee.

And the former mayor had the city attorney compile Ashland’s own budget committee manual. The cost of this for the city attorney and other offices was not documented but was significant. It wasn’t needed. We all know that this information is now obsolete and that the state provides much better information for the budget committee – https://www.oregon.gov/DOR/forms/FormsPubs/local-budgeting-manual_504-420.pdf

Mandatory reading for councilors.

Carol Voisin

Former Ashland City Councilor