Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rec budget unravels under questioning

Nested Russian matyroshka dolls provide a metaphor for the Rec budget.
It looked to be a ho-hum meeting of Plainfield's City Council Monday night.

Until Councilors began asking questions about the Recreation Division as part of the resolution (188-12) funding temporary budget appropriations for June.

Questions arose over why Rec needed a $100,000 infusion before June for seasonal employees and whether that money was intended to cover costs before June 30 -- and not extend beyond that date as Councilor Storch pointedly insisted. Of course Rec Division Director Dave Wynn was nowhere to be seen.

His boss, Administration and Finance Director Al Restaino, assumed his customary deer-in-the-headlights posture and once again was unable to give laser-sharp, accurate answers to what are standard-issue questions. (Oh, for the days of City Administrator Tom Morrison, who could cite chapter and verse of the budget, including historical data, from memory! But, then, he treated the budget as if it mattered.)

As for DPWUD Director Eric Jackson, who was also called upon to answer questions concerning Rec (were job titles recently shifted around?), one gets the impression this straight-arrow guy is being flim-flammed by his own staff.

With Restaino insisting the amount was 'a projection' and declining to affirm any exactitude for the request, he offered it was comparable to historical figures (meaning from last year's budget -- which, of course, he did not have on hand).

Council President Mapp countered by suggesting his review of the last several months indicated a monthly expenditure on seasonal employees that was much smaller and moved to amend the resolution by cutting the amount sharply -- to $35,000.

Councilor Reid offered that he was willing to vote for the $100,000 amount. Councilor McWilliams, who clearly could see where the discussion was likely to go (once Reid started to get cranked up), offered a compromise: Restaino should go get his historical figures and come back to the Council meeting and the Council would take up the resolution at the end of the business meeting.

Restaino agreed to this proposal and as he left for his office, I also left (I am told that the Council later relented, even though Restaino was unable to provide the historical information requested).

I do know this -- the Rec Division has bothered to post its summer schedule on the City's website (see here, PDF), and there are two start dates.

The summer camps at Cedarbrook Park, Cook School and Rushmore Playground are slated to begin June 25, meaning the last week in June.

The summer enrichment academies (basketball, football/track, tennis, baseball/soccer, wrestling, dance and golf/swimming) which make up the bulk of the summer seasonal employees are slated to begin July 9.

So, what was this about needing the $100,000 for seasonal employees now?

Lately I have been absorbed in watching the DVDs of the 1979 BBC production of John LeCarré's spy classic 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' in which the world-weary and retired British intelligence officer George Smiley (played by Alec Guinness) unravels the mystery of the mole within the intelligence service.

Each episode opens with a graphic of a set of nested Russian matryoshka dolls being opened, ending finally with the blank-faced innermost doll, representing the unidentified mole.

The metaphor seems quite appropriate for questions concerning the Rec Division budget, where each inner doll finally reveals an unanswered innermost question.

Indeed, for the entire city budget, when one takes into account that -- once again -- we find a clerical error (this time for $1 million) and at the end of the Council's hearings, the Robinson-Briggs administration has yet to identify how it is going to pay the $5 million pension payment deferred from 2009 and due this year.

Hopefully, the Council will be able to get answers to some of these questions when it tries to wrap up the budget hearings tonight (7:00 PM in City Hall Library) with the continuation of the discussion of Information Technology and the presentation on the Clerk's office. Which means that the expected budget amendments, which were to be discussed this evening, will be pushed down the calendar to later in the month.

Council Budget Hearing
Information Technology
City Clerk

Tonight, 7:00 PM

City Hall Library
(Parking and entry in the rear)

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Bob said...

I feel sorry for anyone who thinks this mayor will ever get her act together. Will any one running for office on the "Sharon" ticket be any better, or will they be fostering the continuation of the Sharon ineptitude. I pray that this election voters think before they act.

Anonymous said...

I am becoming disillusioned with the New Dems. I really do not believe that there will be any difference if Roni Taylor or Tracy Brown will get in office.

They have the ability and the power to correct obvious abuses of money and power. The New Dems on that council have to know that the Rec money is wasted - yet they do nothing.

Why would it be any different if the mayor owns the council. Obviously, things are not being corrected as the New Dems make you think they will be.

Linda said...

Yet they approved the $100,000 in spite of the lack of any written evidence even though money has been misused before and probably will be again..there's no accountability on anyone's part, administration or council in this town because they just pass the bill onto the taxpayers as usual