Municipal Finance Commission meeting.  Finance panel pushes for 'right' answers, defined issues, as Rossi calls for 'culture-change' at City Hall  South Pasadenon
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Municipal Finance Commission meeting. Finance panel pushes for 'right' answers, defined issues, as Rossi calls for 'culture-change' at City Hall South Pasadenon

South Pasadena City Finance News Update

With the caveat that finance staff would provide the City Council with a “high-level understanding” of the requested budget data, the South Pasadena Finance Commission voted 4-0 on March 28 to recommend council approval of the Finance Department's mid-year budget review. Voted from.

This seemingly innocuous action was the result of several weeks of stormy activity over the city's financial viability and the quality of the financial data it was providing, which had been limited by the commission. Vice Chairperson Sheila Rossi requested an apology from City Council members for public comments questioning their integrity.

“The attack on my character, the attack on my professionalism was incredibly hurtful and devastating,” he said.

After the meeting, Deputy City Manager Domenica Megerditchian told the South Pasadenon News that the commission's recommendation came with the request that savings from any unexpected, overstated or otherwise “encumbered” amounts in current and future budget reports and health insurance, Includes figures from professional services. Utility costs, as well as for “headcount and salary savings”.

City Finance Director John Downs said he would “look at some things related to savings” but cautioned that it would not be a “comprehensive” list as is typically developed later in the budget cycle.

mid year review, The report, designed to accelerate city budget development for the fiscal year starting July 1, outlines how revenues and expenditures track budget projections.

But during its February 29 meeting, the Finance Commission reiterated its dissatisfaction with the staff's financial reporting practices as well as the information presented in support of the mid-year review. As Commission President Peter Giuliani said, “We have received the level of clarity we need.” It voted unanimously to delay approval.

The vote came a week after alarm bells were raised in response to a report the City Council received from city contractor NHA Consultants that projected up to $3.9 million in annual general fund deficit over the next five years, which On top of worrying losses. Current and previous financial year.

The projections led to the creation of an “ad hoc” committee to examine the municipal finances., The ad hoc, composed of Giuliani, Rossi and two city council members, met three times and spent hours talking on the phone. When he briefed the City Council on March 6, Giuliani reported that the data dive alleviated some concerns and enabled a better understanding of the NHA deficit projections. But while the staff's appropriations requests were reasonable, he wanted more time to review the data requested from Finance. Meanwhile, it recommended “pausing” non-essential appointments and expenses.

At the next council meeting on March 20, Council Member John Prymuth voted to dissolve the ad hoc. He accused Rossi of making “two or three statements” containing “incorrect, completely false information”. He said the ad hoc violated its mandate, made comments with “political overtones” and condemned the delay in the mid-year review despite finding that the finance staff's appropriations requests were reasonable. He also said it was “sidelined”, “ignored” and held in “closed-door meetings without staff”.

During Ad Hoc's March 6 presentation, he said, staffers were “shaking their heads” and Finance Director Downs “walked out in outrage because there was not the slightest interest in hearing about the accuracy of the statements made by Rossi” which were “a blatant indictment against the city and its finances.”

Council member Michael Caciotti aligned himself with Prymuth's assessment, citing Ad Hoc's “distortions (and) misrepresentations”, claiming that they weakened staff morale and caused some to “depart to other cities. was forced to.”

accepting Ad Hoc did indeed meet with city staff, Prymuth later clarified that he should have run his findings through staff but Rossi did not do so. “When employees walk out because they are not given the opportunity to be heard on an important issue before council, it is a sign of a deterioration in working relations,” he wrote in an email to the South Pasadenon News.

Giuliani disputed Staff input was not sought for the March 6 presentation. “Not only did he have the opportunity to review, but I also sent him the entire presentation” that afternoon. But “nobody called me.” While ad hoc meetings were “closed” because they were not publicized or publicly noticed under the Brown Act, The group accepted the staff's request for the meeting and neither rejected nor received anyone else's request to attend.

Giuliani, a senior organization development consultant at SCE, rejected claims that Rossi had made any false statements. “She was ringing a clarion call that there are some problems we are facing and they need to be addressed. He reviewed the documents that were made available for our use and found errors and redactions in some of those documents. He pointed out some of those errors. What he said was reasonable based on the analysis he did. Some of the information Rossi provided based on his comments was later proven to be false. But at that moment she was not trying to mislead. “She was not making any nefarious allegations against anyone.”

Giuliani said he believed the City Council was reacting to comments from the commission that “pointed to a lack of rigor in the City Council's analysis in the past. There was a lot of tension and emotion. You have a Finance Commission which has been more active than others in the past.

public records indicates that Incomplete data submitted by employees, as well as City Council and ad hoc committee member Janet Braun, called “miscommunication” over Finance Commission data requests that continued for months, creating confusion that contributed to the friction. Some of the material in question was related to the budget and personnel data at the center of the statement, which Prymuth focused on when he accused Rossi of misrepresentation. Some of the most serious errors came from Rossi's investigation.

After the Commission voted to approve the mid-year review, Rossi said that “at the time” the information he relied on for his statements included a figure whose accuracy was later put into doubt. and was “still not completely clear.” The reality is that mistakes happen.” He talked about the need to ensure that people feel safe calling them out and acknowledging their existence.

“I feel I should apologize for this” and to explain the reason for the council's decision to disband the ad-hoc. He called for “culture change, and specifically culture change in our community and our city council.”

Giuliani said he believed the parties were now “back on track and committed to working together to move the city forward.” he noted The Commission also recommended using the NHA tool “to stress-test future budgets”.

The concern over the NHA deficit projections was partly because the data plugged in was “not carefully reviewed before it was put in.” He is “a fan of the NHA tool but not of the hysteria it generated.” Using that, “we can make adjustments to the budget so that we don't find ourselves in a situation where the city is not financially strong.”

Deputy City Manager Megerdichian Said council will take final action on the mid-year review on April 17. The staff will meet with both the Commission and the Council in lieu of meetings with subcommittees of both bodies. The city will then begin the new budget with issues that include vacancies and staffing levels, short- and long-term considerations and “revenue opportunities.” Joint Council/Commission meetings will be held on topics such as Capital Improvement Program Budget.

The city is seeking public input on the budget process through the publication of a five-question survey running through May 14. survey is linked Here. It also seeks candidates to fill the vacant position on the Finance Commission following the resignation of Commissioner Stephanie Hernandez due to personal reasons. He hopes that this process will be expedited and the new commissioner will be appointed on April 17 before the start of the budget.

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