City updates, more/deeper/candid thoughts on City, finances, tax rate increase

Below is the text of an email I sent out today to those residents who have given me permission to email them with periodic updates. Please email me if you would like to be added to the list.  Thank you.

EDITING IN! Thank you to an eagle-eyed resident who saw that the email I sent out had the date July 13, though clearly people are receiving the email today, July 31.  I started drafting the email on July 13 and just kept working on the draft, which I finally finished and sent today, July 31.  I am sorry for the confusion, and the wrong date.

Greetings to all on this first day of August - unbelievable!

The disclaimer per usual re: being on this list: if you would like to be removed from my distribution list, please let me know. I understand and respect people's desire to receive less email. Please know that I do not share your emails with anyone, this is my personal list and those are two reasons why I keep your email addresses in the "blind copy" recipient section.

A few short City-related updates to share, and then, for those of you who remember the last long email I wrote, preceded by a warning about it being long, this email includes an even longer set of thoughts about the tax rate increase that will be decided by voters as a result of Tuesday's election.

The short updates:

1. There is a Pepper Pike Community Band concert on Monday, August 2 at 7:30pm in the Pepper Pike Park. 

2. There is a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on Monday, August 2 at 7:30p in City Hall (open to the public as always) also.  I know this happened last year and I'm told that it happens not in frequently.  I'm just the messenger (though when I noticed the conflict, I did ask about it but there was not a movement to change it.) The agenda for the meeting can be seen here.

NB: For those interested in the progress of the Waterway Carwash in Lander Circle by Chagrin, they are scheduled to be at this meeting.

3. Voting will take place in Pepper Pike on Tuesday, August 3. You can read more about it here.  Polls are open from 6:30am through 7:30pm. 

Just so people know: I will be at one of the locations for an hour or so on Tuesday (I'm not sure which one yet).  Two of my Landerwood neighbors were involved in recruiting people to be at the polls. Both of those neighbors are with the "pro" group.  However, I will be there solely as a Council Member and to thank residents for turning out to vote, period.  I do not know how, as an elected official myself who evangelizes pretty much non-stop about civic engagement, I cannot and could not and would not offer to be there to thank those of you who vote in person on that day. As far as I know, so long as people are outside the area marked by flags, as many of you too can come and thank your fellow residents for giving us a good turnout.

Tuesday 8/3/10: Great streams of people coming into both polling locations - really impressed for midday (2pm ish) - chatted with many inside and outside the station - including another council member, some City employees, and Jean Seaton who was there for the "yes" side.  And while I did not see any "no" side yard signs or greeters, I did see many people I know who were voting on different sides. Thanks to everyone for voting, in person or absentee!

4. The next Finance Oversight Subcommittee meeting is Monday, August 9 at 7:30pm in the City Hall Chambers. It is open to the public. There is not yet a meeting agenda but I will post it when there is one. Minutes from prior meetings will also be available on the site but I am waiting for the electronic versions (my scanned versions are quite inferior).

5. The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Road & Safety/Finance & Planning on Wednesday, August 11 at 7:30pm in City Hall. Public as always, I've not received an agenda for it.

Please know that if you have any questions about these or other matters, please contact me or City Hall. You can find contact information here.

And now - the lengthy thoughts about the City and the ballot issues and oh, more than you may ever want to know.  As before, I leave residents to their excellent minds to determine whether they are for or against the ballot issues to be voted on this Tuesday. I clearly have opinions, but I am not going to tell anyone how to vote (and I have been asked to do that).

I want to thank the many, many residents who have in fact wanted to know my thoughts on many of the issues described below.  The thoughts below were written by me and only me in response to one very specifically worded request for my input: "Would you be able to address the letter Jim Lemay [sic] mailed to the residents? [the June 27, 2010 letter] Is his letter, providing "new information" accurate?" 
I have attached that letter for your easy reference. [not attached to the blog post]

As last time, no one has vetted what I'm writing here except me. I take 100% responsibility and I invite critique of my thoughts, always.  That can be done by phone, email, on my city council-related blog, where this will be posted after I send it or if you would like to get together to talk. 

Thank you in advance for your consideration and patience.  Here is my very candid response to that question, in a separate color just to offset it a bit. The bolding is simply to help you as the reader scan for what may interest you and what you may want to skip over.

I don't feel that the information provided in the letter is new and I also don't feel that it is all accurate or at least in context. With that in mind, what I'm going to do is list out for you all the notes I made on my copy of the letter and go from there:

1. It's hard for me to see any of the information as new because everything mentioned in the letter is on the record, in the minutes and/or has been before Council. I'm not sure what sense of "new" was intended.

2. The letter fails to mention anything about which services residents want or at what level residents want them.  But the answer to those questions are the realities that Council has to balance, since all our taxpayers are not of the same mind (i.e., some are adamant that we not outsource dispatch, others are adamant we outsource it; some are adamant that rear-yard trash pick up uniquely defines Pepper Pike, others are adamant that they'd give that up to save money). To say that we will only provide that which our revenue can buy does not solve the question of how residents prioritize what they want, and that our residents are very varied in how they prioritize.  The array of services and at what level they're to be provided is the core of what the city's revenues support, followed by infrastructure.  No discussion about a city's finances can be complete without facing the difficulty of balancing what people want with what we need and what we can pay for.

3. The letter fails to mention anything about the 25% pay cut on 2009 salaries for all employees. (I can't speak for my fellow electeds, but I've been writing a check to the city for 25% of my monthly paycheck since March, when the cuts took effect).  I did write about this at length in the email I sent to residents on July 7, so I won't repeat all that, but the bottom line for me: it's incomplete to say that "City services can be maintained without new taxes" because the letter fails to state what happens to the employees' salaries for 2011.

4. The letter fails to say anything about the estate tax revenue or a surplus except that there will be more of both than the 2010 budget predicted.  In my opinion, this news is due precisely to the scrutiny put into the 2010 budget, not just luck that more valuable dead people's estates settled this year than what we put into the budget and then budgeted for on the expense side.  "Greatly" exceeding forecasts is because we knew we had to forecast conservatively, given the 2008 and 2009 numbers.  This reality also underlies precisely why we're debating how to manage estate taxes and how to budget for them: because it is pure luck, when it comes to budgeting, that there is any particular level of dead people's money coming to the city in any one year.  And it is the mayor and previous council's reliance on that unreliable income stream that heavily contributed to our mess in the first place.

5. The letter's 100% attribution to our fiscal situation being "...caused by poor planning and excessive spending" and not the recession is undercut by the fact that Beachwood and Bratenahl are now seeking a .5 increase in their income tax rates (from 1.5% to 2%) and South Russell is also now seeking a .25% increase, from 1.0% to 1.25%.  I agree that poor planning and bad decision making about spending absolutely enabled us to see how dependent the former council and mayor allowed the budget to be on the surplus, whether that surplus was the result of year to year carryovers or the accrual of estate tax revenues. 

But the political reality is that, for at least 10 years and maybe longer, this city has not been taxing its living residents enough to provide the services they've been receiving. The former council and the mayor allowed that to be the case, and now we're paying for what, in my mind, was a very deliberate political decision: why tell residents that their income and property taxes don't cover the cost of what they seem to like if that cost can be covered by what seems to be an unending and high supply of estate taxes?

THAT is where I find fault in the thinking and planning and decision-making that led us to today. And this is also where I'm extremely wary of the implication (because it's never stated at all, much to my frustration) that we just use estate taxes to fill in any gaps this year and/or next.  That continues poor planning and leads me to wonder what the real agenda might be.

6. The letter is wrong on page 1 where it states, "Though not publicized by City Hall, in the past few months the City has collected significantly more taxes than were budgeted." This is false. I know because at the May Council meeting on 5/19, on the record, Gail Mayland specifically stated how the finance director had told us, on the record, what those amounts were.  You can find this mention in the minutes of the Council Meeting for 5/19/10 (listed at the website as just "Council Meeting 5/10") on page 6 (http://www.pepperpike.org/Government/Meetings).  This allusion that City Hall did not but should have publicized this income is unfair, in my opinion. It was clear to everyone present and even in the minutes that we were thrilled. There was no interest in hiding such news and I believe the letter could have done better in presenting this information than to imply that perhaps Council wanted to hide this information. 

Again, we budgeted conservatively. I'm thrilled that the numbers are better. The letter's preference for "optimistic" budgeting rather than what it calls "pessimistic" forecasts is irresponsible for a budget our size, given the volatility of the City's revenues (again, my last email that I forwarded to you explores this much more).  It is very hard for me to believe that taxpayers would prefer that we budget as aggressively as I believe is being suggested. I do not know how that would be considered better planning for a taxpayer-funded entity.

7. On page 2, the suggestion that we would end the year with a $1.5 million surplus and that we would then build on that again does not comport with the reality that we have all FTEs receiving 2009 salaries less 25%. That fact must be dealt with and it is not.

8.  The letter fails to provide any support where it states (in multiple places but specifically on page 2), "Any claim that services will be cut if the new tax does not pass is simply not true."  The letter seems to base this assertion solely on the changed, projected 2010 ending year surplus, as if there are no outstanding financial issues to be managed - like the employees 25% cut on their 2009 salary levels or the deferment of nearly all capital needs for 2009.  Likewise, the letter fails to take into account budget needs for 2011 and how the perceived 2010 ending balance matches up with 2011 expenses.  If this assertion is to be made, then it needs to be backed up.  There is nothing provided.  And this is, in my opinion, a grave disservice to the work we have to do to provide a balanced 2011 budget that gets our residents what they want and need and plan for a fiscally stable future, as well as a disservice to residents trying to figure out whether to support or oppose the tax increase - because so much information is being left out.

9. The letter is wrong when it states on page 2 that "Pepper Pike will now have higher income taxes than Moreland Hills...Why choose Pepper Pike when it costs less to live in Moreland Hills..." and because of this, Pepper Pike housing values may be hurt.

Moreland Hills' income tax rate is 1% - the same as Pepper Pike's, currently. But Moreland has a 0% credit and Pepper Pike has a 50% credit. So, for Pepper Pike residents who work outside the city, currently, the amount they'd pay in Moreland would be 2x what it is here now. If the ballot issue passes, Moreland and Pepper Pike's tax for those residents who work outside Pepper Pike, would be the same as what it would be here in Pepper Pike if the ballot issue passes.  So the letter's portrayal is blatantly inaccurate. (Check out this Chagrin Valley Times article from 2/10 that actually states how PP's income tax for those who work outside of PP is in fact lower than it would be if they lived in Moreland.)

10. The statement on page 2 that, "Construction of the "Master Plan" municipal campus...will certainly be on the spending agenda" and that cash from new taxes will eliminate any incentive to reform is pure speculation and extremely and unnecessarily inflammatory.

I've said repeatedly that I understand the mistrust residents have of some members of Council and the mayor, but these statements in the letter are disingenuous in my opinion.  And without an urging to find, recruit and support others to get on Council, these statements simply serve to inflame that lack of trust without recognizing that this very debate in our community is fresh, open and new.  It's also really difficult, but it's also really necessary and I for one am glad that it's happening. It shows me people really do care - but I wonder, for how long? Will residents sustain it?

The letter, in these places, also keeps referring to withholding money in order to make "City Hall give genuine consideration to fresh thinking" but again, never defines anything other than the dispatch debate - which we've been pursuing for months and is hung up in part because there are, in fact, taxpayers - residents and not just some elected officials, who don't want the dispatch center to move or are "not in my backyard" about regionalism.  I feel that there's a huge minimization of problems and actions in this letter, for the sake of making a particular argument and the reality of the work in harmonizing so many positions (i.e., legislating for a single community) is utterly lost.

11. The entire paragraph on page 3 (i.e., that taxes have unintended consequences, that if the new tax diminishes housing values or businesses leave the city, the tax will hurt our long-term financial health and "this means even more taxes on existing residents") lacks a basis in any pattern or reason to believe that it would come to fruition.  This city has only moved once, ever, before now, to add a tax (other than its original income tax) - and that was a fire levy to go from an all volunteer department to one staffed by fulltime and parttime firefighters. Again, I find that this speculation that the city council will just keep proposing and seeking taxes only stokes the legitimate mistrust that exists with more anxiety that is unfounded.

12. The letter (see mainly page 3) does not detail any reforms we've set in motion, doesn't give examples of what "reform" would look like and doesn't define "regionalism." Yet it strongly implies that there have been no reforms and no progress. I disagree.

The pay cuts have resulted in a drop from 70 FTE to 59 FTE.  Permanent personnel cost shrinkage was desired by Council and we talked about it on the record multiple times as part of our plans, moving forward.  There's no mention of that in the letter.

That change plus other cuts are part of why the surplus now is on target to be possibly double or more than double what we projected when we approved the 2010 budget without the estate taxes. That too is because of the discipline we're trying to enforce.

The letter also references "other regionalism initiatives that could benefit the City" but describes only the debate over the City's dispatch center - and yet disparages that debate incorrectly, saying, "...handling of the dispatch issue shows there [sic] no real interest at City Hall in regionalism or any other fresh thinking."

This statement ignores the reality that the dispatch debate exists precisely because at least two of us are pressing for the possible outsourcing of emergency calls. This statement ignores the waste consortium involvement we just discussed in two or three recent council meetings.  And this statement ignores my presentation of seeking grant money to do a regional web portal for the Chagrin Valley communities. As for "other fresh thinking,"  the letter doesn't reflect my pursuit of resident education on implementing more green strategies or resident education to maximize our use of the Internet.  Where is the list of reforms and proposed path to implementation via our City government that those criticizing the last several months of action would like to pursue?

13. On pages 3 and 4, the letter spends a great deal of time addressing personnel issues. I address some of this in my email of July 7, but I want to add or re-state:

-it only uses 2009 numbers, all of which are different this year, and many dramatically so;
-it never mentions the salary cuts in effect;
-it never mentions that we are now down from 70 employees to 59, and we've been around 64 or so for at least a couple of months (not just since the letter was composed);
-it fails to indicate that the pension obligations are mandated by the state - we have no choice but to pay them; and
-there is no basis given for the assertion that "personnel spending has exceeded this important purpose" - of attracting and retaining highly qualified employees. What is the basis for this assertion? How do we know this?  If we know this, it should be explained. But it's not. It's just asserted.

I for one have been looking into performance audits which Orange Village just had completed and Bainbridge Township is considering. These are performed by the State Auditor's office, but the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission also offers numerous services related to this kind of thing that we might want to explore.  Just on July 21, at the most recent Council meeting, I requested that a complete review of compensation and benefits be placed on our agenda, not only because of the scrutiny residents give it but because just saying that it's 70% of our budget isn't specific enough.  We have to do better in understanding why it's 70%, does it have to be 70%, can it be better allocated and so on.  Being new on council makes this a perfect time to demand and get this kind of examination.

14. The information on page 4 about the master plan is scattered with inaccuracies and by being inaccurate, weakens the arguments about just how ill-conceived it was.  The facts of its poor conception, alone, are very negative, but to say that a municipal campus is for the government and not for the citizens is like saying that a college campus is for the faculty and not for the students - and again, just very disingenuous.  The letter states all kinds of "what it will cost" numbers but again, with no information that lets anyone connect the dots.  I was at the very last presentation nearly a year ago related to the police station portion and it alone ranged from just over $6 million to more than $14 million, depending on what was going to be done.

There's no question, this police station plan should have had the plug pulled far earlier and the money spent in 2009 should not have been spent.  But the call to arms and raising of anxiety over it being planned, now, for the near future, is misplaced, in my opinion.

15.  On page 4: The resource officer is not, from all the sides we've heard from (and are on the record saying so), an example of, as the letter says, "we have the money, let's spend it." I can recount plenty of ways in which I can look back and say that that was in fact part of the mindset, but the resource officer is not one of those examples.  Again, multiple individuals from inside and outside the city have spoken about how the situation came to be and by all accounts, it was something that was done deliberately to improve and enhance the community - not just "let's spend it."

The reality is that the school board and other communities' city governments have been actively engaged since at least March in changing the pay arrangement. I was one of only two Pepper Pike Council Members who attended a public meeting, hosted by the Orange School Board, about the situation.  I saw no residents for or against the ballot issues there, listening to or weighing in on possible fiscal solutions.

EDITING IN! Richard Leskovic, who is a walking example of civic engagement, was at that meeting.  He is always a very frequent attendee (maybe always!?) of City Council meetings.  Thank you Richard and I apologize for having left you out of this description.

16. Also on page 4, about election spending, these two issues are dreadfully misrepresented.

On the scheduling and notice of the special meeting:
I asked for the special meeting nearly a week before we had it and less than 48 hours after our June regular council meeting - it was not hasty at all. I asked for it to discuss the estate tax and rainy day fund. The law requires just 24 hours of notice for a special meeting and if we don't like that (i.e., the letter calls it "hastily announced"), we can and should change it, but that's all it requires. I believe notice went out at least two and maybe three days ahead of the meeting (June 24). Ironically, though I asked for the meeting, I was left off the email notification of it.

On the mayor's introduction to council of a contract for a PR firm's services in relation to the nonadvocacy public information the City is allowed to distribute regarding ballot issues: I'm glad that the letter makes it clear that this was the sole act of the mayor. But what isn't made clear is how resoundingly I rejected it, and Gail Mayland rejected it.  There were only six council members present and that contract was not going to go anywhere. During the meeting, a resident literally yelled at me that he did not care whether there was a conflict of interest or not, he just wanted us to approve it.  And I of course stood my ground that there was no situation under which I'd be approving any contract related to a PR firm doing such work for us.

The way the letter describes this incident gives an accurate portrayal of what the mayor sought to accomplish. But, in my opinion, what it also highlights is that voting a tax increase up or down is not going to change the elected decision makers with whom residents take issue. That can only be done via recall or when the officials' terms are up and they are replaced with different thinkers.

I also feel personally upset about the recitation of this one incident because Gail and I were visibly and audibly in complete disagreement with the mayor and my fellow council members from the beginning of the introduction of the measure. The letter hints at none of this. I think that's truly unfortunate and I assume also very intentional in terms of, again, stoking the ire at the mayor.  People can have ire - I have ire - but the letter's re-telling grossly mischaracterizes how, quickly and ultimately, at least two council members handled it and saw to it that the contract went no where.

On the wording that the mayor wanted the group to "promote" the new tax increase: that's actually incorrect. The contract was related to the legally allowed dissemination of information by a political subdivision in regard to ballot issues. We are not allowed to use city funds to promote the issues and our lawyer would have and did in fact review our materials to be sure that we did not violate the "no advocacy" prohibition in Ohio law.  I understand how residents may allege - and in fact some have critiqued the mailing as being just for the promotion, but the reality is that many municipalities do in fact hire PR firms to handle their non-advocacy information related to ballot issues and we did not.

The alternative is unthinkable to me: that a city would put something on a ballot and not disseminate any information about it. That would bring charges from residents that the city is trying to sneak something in. It's a classic catch-22, in my opinion, but I believe in the obligation to get information out to residents, the law allows it and the problem here was that the mayor wanted to use the same firm that the pro-increase people are using.  THAT is what is impermissible in my opinion (among other things).

On the cost and timing of the election: The letter reduces to one sentence the multiple debates that council had over this topic back in February through May.  The facts:

1. The mayor wanted a .75% increase on the MAY ballot. Gail, myself and others (Scott and Rick in particular) successfully beat that back because we had nearly no information and little exploration of what we were looking at.  May was too early and .75, in my opinion was too high (and always was too high for me, especially with no change in the credit).  But May would have cost very little because it was a primary election in an even year (the law distinguishes costs on odd and even years - the ORC section is here).

2. After rejecting a May ballot issue, and before deciding on if and when there would be a ballot issue, we examined (among other things):

-first, what the different effect would be on the gross revenue received if the issue went on in August versus going on in November. As you can imagine, from a financial perspective, August 3 let's additional revenue flow in starting in September. November would not see additional revenue flowing in until December, thus we would lose a quarter of the year in terms of receipts.

-second, the cost of the election. We deliberately asked for this information.  We were given this information. We were told by our finance director that it would be $2,000.  Given that we were balancing the loss of a quarter of a year in receipts, versus $2,000 for the election, it truly seemed - and we were all in agreement that $2,000 was not exorbitant at all and we said, okay to August.

3. We relied on that information about the cost as a material piece of information.  When and ever since we learned that the Board of Elections said that the $2,000 was a wrong quote and it would be about $10,000 I have been raising hell. I'm now spearheading an appeal to the BOE to either reinstate the original $2000 based on the fact that we relied on it and made a significant decision based on that information, or at a minimum reduce the $10,000.  I have support from the finance director, the mayor and council to do this and I mentioned it on the record at the July 21st City Council meeting. Obviously we have nothing to lose by pressing this and at a minimum, we owe it to the residents to press it.

But again, the letter's very reductive style of highlighting in the most inflammatory of ways this particular set of information is, as you might imagine, disappointing to me. I'm a lawyer - I know about crafting arguments, but, well - that's why I'm writing this lengthy tome about the rest of the picture, as I've been living in it.

17. I don't think there's any question that further examination of the 19 years the mayor has been mayor and the decades of years that other council members have been on council will reveal "excessive spending" and "other potential cost savings."  But, in my experience, defeat has as a good a chance as emboldening as it does weakening.   I fail to see how succeeding with a protest vote (and a defeat in the eyes of those who are against the tax rate increase) will drive changes in decision-making by the individuals most often criticized if those changes in behavior have not happened in the last two decades. And in the case of the individuals involved, I have little expectation of anyone changing as the result of a loss. Additionally, concerned residents should focus on changing the decision makers and/or the discretion given to the administrator versus the legislators, as well as to the voters.

18. On page 5, the letter states disbelief that "City Hall will truly embrace any new approach to cost effective City government" and "So far City Hall is unapologetic and unreformed."  Again, this is disingenuous and gratuitous.  The council minutes are replete with examples of Gail and I contributing, speaking up, challenging, suggesting - and often times in alignment with what residents against the tax rate increase have suggested.  I know I take this somewhat personally, but it is patently unfair to Gail and myself.  On the other hand, it undermines all that is being argued against the ballot issue because the real challenge should be directed at the specific "City Hall" individuals who, as he says, are unreformed and unapologetic. This is broadbrush stroking and stoking of flames at its worst.

In the meantime, suggesting that apologies will change things or turning back a tax increase will make people change their behavior is naive, to say the least.

19. On page 5, the assertion that because our estate tax revenues in 2010 are exceeding what we budgeted for, and because the spending cuts we have already made have improved the 2010 bottom line, we therefore can rebuild our surplus and reverse the sacrifices made by some city employees is wrong (as is the assertion on the same page that "this new and very large tax increase is not needed now").  The 2011 budget, which seeks to "reverse" some of the pay cuts without a tax increase, shows a deficit of more than $1.6 million.  The surplus for 2010, as of today - without one dime of expenditures added to 2010, is around $1.8 million but more than $1.3 million of that is due 100% to estate taxes - nearly $800,000 of which came in long after we started examining reform ideas. Though the letter legitimately criticizes historical poor planning and bad decision-making, I fail to see how the letter's repeated charges that the city government must reform how it budgets and spends, and then strident urging that residents believe that, right now, the city can wait to reform and use estate tax revenue to fill in the gaps as has been done for the last 20 years, and especially in this incredibly volatile economy, constitutes the good planning or decision-making needed, now.

20. To suggest that, "If we citizens require the City to maintain spending discipline and truly embrace regionalism and other fresh thinking and the City truly still requires additional revenue then a smaller (and shorter) tax increase can be placed on a future ballot" is specious because this letter ultimately argues, in its own words and multiple times, that reform of City government is needed, that poor planning and decision-making is the problem and that turning back a tax increase is the way to get reform, better planning and better decision-making.  Why doesn't the letter focus on efforts that alter who makes the decisions, rather than simply seek to cut off revenues - an act that will not change the behavior of those most responsible for the poor planning and decision-making?  Turning back the tax increase will not result in behavior modification for the elected officials with whom residents are most concerned.

21. The final assertion on page 5 that services, safety and the City as we know it can be maintained without new taxes is a set up to view and judge the mayor and Council as failures when the services cannot be maintained without new taxes because, when we in fact are unable to maintain without new taxes, the accusations about that reality will be "because of bad planning and big spending." It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

22. The final substantive paragraph that says reform begins with rejecting a tax increase lacks logic since rejecting the tax increase, as the letter outlines, will require the City to do EXACTLY what the mayor and the former council have always done: rely heavily on estate taxes and surpluses to meet needs, rather than keep expenses and revenues balanced, with access to a rainy day fund.  Why is doing that in 2010 good planning and decision-making, but in all the previous decades of practice, it was bad planning and decision-making?

Likewise, how is it reform?  To suggest that the reform is in rejecting "giving the mayor" more money and thereby forcing discipline is, again, naive.


23. Finally, I want to point out that the rhetoric used throughout the letter  - "fresh thinking" "regionalism" "more openness to new ideas" remains undefined. This demonstrates to me a reliance on buzzwords - rather substantive arguments - to get people motivated. There are valid arguments against the tax increase, so why resort to buzzwords?

In conclusion, I agree 100% with the letter's exhortations for people to get involved.  But I'd urge that they realize that this requires a sustained level of involvement, including finding, recruiting and supporting residents to serve on Council or as mayor.

I agree 100% with the letter's exhortation that, "...as citizens we can, and should, question the judgment and leadership of our elected officials." But I'd urge that such questioning be pursued not for the sake of any one agenda, but in the pursuit of demanding the most and the best from the very people the same citizens elected.

The letter asserts that if these examples of spending and potential cost savings have been found in the time that it took for the letter to be composed, then there must be more.  Well, I'd assert that if there are all these inaccuracies in what the letter offers as argumentation for its position, then the position itself is rendered less reliable.

I cannot support an argument that charges us, repeatedly, to reform how city government budgets and spends, but then stridently urges residents to believe that, right now, the city can wait to reform, and should use the same fill in the gap techniques as the last 20 years, especially in these incredibly volatile economic times.

Again, thank you all for your time and attention.  I will continue to scrutinize, ask questions, seek answers, consider input from anyone willing to take the time to contribute.  But just as the letters says that I should expect, as an elected official, to have my judgment and leadership questioned by citizens, likewise I will engage with citizens' ideas, especially upon request by another citizen, as I have done here.

Have a great weekend, please vote and thank you for living in Pepper Pike.

Jill

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