Thoughts on 9/29/11 CVT Article, "Council balked at putting road levy on ballot"

I emailed the following to CVT editor David Lange and to our intrepid Pepper Pike reporter, Sali McSherry. I'm appreciative of their coverage of the City and its concerns and I wanted to send them my thoughts rather than just have them on this blog.

For those of you who have not read the article, you can read it here:

Chagrin Valley Times, "Council balked at putting road levy on ballot"

Dear Mr. Lange and Sali,

I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to share a few comments with you about the 9/29/11 article about the recommendations in the Pepper Pike Finance Review Committee (“FRC”) report. I provide these comments with all due respect and consider this communication to be public, should you have any interest in publishing it in some way (as an LTE perhaps). I am not suggesting that you do that, it's entirely up to you of course. I will, however, be sharing these thoughts on my city council blog.  I am fully aware of the frustration many residents have expressed with the state of the City and Council's role in that - I often share or even initiate that frustration.  So I wanted to highlight a few other pieces of contextual information that I believe further explain how situations have unfolded.

My thoughts:

1. I think it's important to re-state that Council didn’t receive the FRC recommendations until April 13, 2011, just over five months ago (which is less time than the Committee itself met and deliberated).  The deadline for a road levy to be placed on the August ballot was May 4, 2011. In my opinion, it’s unreasonable to expect that in the three weeks between when Council got the recommendations and the levy deadline, Council would have reviewed the 20-plus expense-related cuts, implemented them, seen what they did to our bottom line and then have been able to approve putting a levy on the ballot – no matter how many special sessions we might have held.  Likewise, it's extremely unclear as to whether the four month timespan between receipt of the report and the November ballot deadline of August 10 would have provided sufficient time to assess the impact of what would have had to have been hastily implemented expense cuts.

2. To further emphasize the first point, the FRC recommended, as "imperative," that expense cuts be “substantially" implemented "in conjunction with any initiative to increase revenue.” It is reasonable to interpret this imperative as requiring far more than the three weeks - which was all that existed between when Council got the report on April 13, and the August ballot deadline of May 4.

3. The FRC report clearly indicates that the Committee viewed itself as consisting “solely of private citizens” and that the Committee was making its recommendations “as such.”  Given the lack of transparency and knowledge perceived by some residents (and myself, honestly) to have been allowed over years of City decision-making, it is unreasonable to expect that all members of Council would rubber stamp the Committee’s report. 

However, once we did receive the report, nearly seven months after the FRC itself started to convene, I asked for a bullet point list of all the recommendations and what the budget impact would be of them individually and combined. This was because, by its own language, the report’s recommendations varied from very specific to vague to purposefully remaining silent on matters that Council would still have to consider.  They needed to be sorted out, identified, listed and quantified in terms of potential savings before Council could even deliberate, let alone reject or approve. That night, I also asked for the law director to let us know what action was required to be taken to implement the items, something that also was missing from the report.

In other words, already deeply dissatisfied that Council was getting the report after the 2011 budget had to be turned into the state, I made it a priority to get the recommendations lined up so that we could expeditiously examine and approve, alter or reject them. 

4. The article’s sentence, “With two candidates for mayor and three open seats on council, some members said it’s better to wait,” makes it sound as though Council had just recently discussed the road levy. However, we have not, except as a mention by Paulette in her report to Council on the Oversight subcommittee’s work.  As noted above, the FRC recommendation of a road levy received consideration from the Council on April 13, 2011. As for suggesting that council members wanted to wait for the elections rather than consider it for 2011, no individuals had filed to run for office yet. The now-upcoming election was simply not a factor in the 4/13/11 discussion at all.

5. Finally, as the minutes from that April 13, 2011 meeting reflect, rather than balk at the notion of a road levy, I reiterated my previous support for a road levy. This was 100% consistent with my position on a road levy in 2010, when I was the first one who stepped up to promote such a revenue-raising tool. In addition, on 4/13/11, I made comments that anticipated when the Orange schools might go for a levy. Specifically, I spoke again (having mentioned it in 2010 as well) of examples of cities and schools working together to get levies passed. This has been done to underscore the investment taxpayers make in an overall community. This was and is something I would think Council could have considered if Council had come to believe that a road levy in November was what we needed to recommend.

In sum, as the council member most closely associated with believing in the idea of a road levy and who was most openly seeking to move the FRC process along for weeks before Council received any information at all about the recommendations they were developing, I sincerely hope you do not mind me passing on these thoughts based on my reading of the article from this past week. I submit them to you believing that both of you are genuinely interested in the goings-on in Pepper Pike.

Local newspaper coverage in this day and age is still greatly appreciated, at least by me and I thank you for your time. Please feel free to contact me if you have any follow up questions.

Very truly yours,

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