Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No Confidence in No Confidence

So, City Councilor Dan Rego has announced that he plans on asking for a "no confidence" vote against the mayor at next Tuesday's City Council meeting. Why? Really what is the point of this? Anybody who has been paying attention for the last few months can probably figure out where most City Councilors stand on this. Is a vote really necessary? As it is the relationship between Mayor Flanagan and the City Council is as tense as inviting your ex to Thanksgiving dinner. Really, what purpose does this serve? Mayor Flanagan is in the middle of fighting a recall, he's the focus of an ongoing investigation for his late night meeting with Councilor Correia, and of course he and his administration are under fire for "window-gate". If the Mayor doesn't realize that people are seriously questioning any confidence in his leadership already, well then this vote isn't really going to change things!

I mean, hey the whole thing is wonderful drama and great entertainment. I suspect now that TLC has canceled "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" that it's only a matter of time before they come calling to make "The Adventures of Fall River Government" the next program in their dysfunctional lineup. But the problem with a no confidence vote, and to a larger extent the problem with Councilor Rego is our elected officials should strive to stay above the fray. Councilor Rego on the other hand has kind of gotten in the middle of it. He's been featured on YouTube, he has posted on Facebook, and now he's calling for a vote of no confidence. When your role on the City Council seems to be more about getting rid of the guy on the 6th floor than working to improve the city, that's a problem.

Lefty's View: There is so much more I wanted to put into this post but I guess it will have to wait for a sequel! I know to some Councilor Rego's request is welcome and maybe overdue but really I think the only think this does it to create more friction between the City Council and the Mayor. Believe me, I support the recall process but it IS a distraction and how can you get things done when the relationship between the Mayor and the Council makes it impossible for them to work together? There is a certain decorum that elected officials should maintain. I think the idea behind a vote of no confidence is more about show boating then sending a message. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cadime for Mayor?

There are a few things that Fall River has plenty of; Chinese restaurants, hot dog joints, Dunkin Donuts, and apparently mayoral candidates. Former City Administrator/former School Committeeman Shawn Cadime is the latest to announce a run for the big seat at Government Center, which brings the current number of candidates to 10!

On the surface, Cadime would seem to be an ideal candidate. He has name recognition and a feel for both the city's affairs (thanks to his position as City Admin) and of our school system (thanks to his experience on the school committee), however Cadime never struck me as a leader on the school committee and I'm not really sure if being up on the city's finances makes qualified to lead the city and move it forward. Sure, Cadime could be a great mayor, but we'll need to hear and learn more. 

Cadime's announcement might have been billed as the big news story on WSAR today, but the really interesting part of the story was Cadime's insight on the goings on at Government Center. Although Shawn was very professional during the interview with Barry Richards it seems he made it rather clear that Mayor Flannagan often bypassed policies and made decisions on his own. Cadime stated he was often kept out of the loop (remember he's supposed to be City Administrator) and cited personality differences with Corporation Counsel as a big part of the reason that his contract was not renewed.  Shawn indicated that the Mayor relied more on the opinion of Corporation Counsel than of his own, which unless its in regards to a legal matter is rather startling. Shawn also said that the money that was bonded for Government Center repairs was very specific in that it was for bathrooms on the 1st floor and work in the treasurers office and that the Mayor decided to use that money for work to the legal department's offices and the Mayor's office and 6th floor. Cadime also said that mayor is the one who authorized the replacement of at least two windows in the Corporation Counsel's office and that Cadime himself wasn't aware until he saw staging set up outside the building! Certainly for those who feel that Mayor Flanagan is acting more like he was ordained king vs. elected mayor, Cadime just bolstered that argument!

Lefty's View: Just by throwing his hat in the ring, Cadime becomes one of the few contenders with a legitimate shot at winning election. Cadime not only has name recognition, as a former member of the Flanagan administration his criticisms of the Mayor will ring with a certain authority. If there are any Mayoral forums leading up to the recall election expect fireworks if Flanagan and Cadime are allowed to exchange barbs. As entertaining as all this may seem the downside is, that if Flanagan is allowed to have his name on the ballot candidacies like Cadime's, Sutter's, Miozza's, etc, will simply split the vote and give the Mayor an easy "re-election".  

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Sixth Floor Windows Upgrade!

WSAR broke a story this morning that in 2013 a total of 22 windows were installed on the 6th floor of Government Center. The windows were installed in the Mayor's office and the Corporation Counsel office. The windows were installed by Global Glass of New England. This is where the story gets interesting because apparently Global bounced a check to a subcontractor that resulted in an investigation by the Fall River Police Department and that's when it was discovered that there is no paperwork at all in regards to this work. Nothing was sent out to bid, no purchase orders were issued. Somehow 22 windows got installed at Government Center and nobody knows a thing about it. Now what gets even more interesting is when WSAR had Mayor Flanagan on to discuss this he states that since no money changed hands no laws have been violated and that Global did the work at their own peril.

I think the mayor misses the point. You can imagine that 22 windows probably cost quite a bit of money. On top of that there is the cost of installation. The subcontractor was supposed to be paid $50,000 so you can imagine that the total job is substantially more. Global Glass of New England owes the city back taxes so any money they would get paid would have gone towards their tax bill. Somehow we managed to have 22 windows installed. We didn't pay for them and have no record of authorizing the work and the mayor is happy enough to point out that we're not on the hook for any money and because no money changed hands no laws were violated. Maybe this is his idea of great fiscal management? Maybe we can just have contractors do all sorts of repair work at Government Center, not issue paperwork and then not pay them and say 'hey they did it at their own peril!' The fact that we didn't violate any laws because of a missing paper trail is very little comfort in the face of the fact that we had 22 windows installed, nobody questioned why they were being installed and we never paid for them. Where is the oversight?! How do you not ask questions when you see all the windows in your office being replaced?! But you know the mayor isn't the only one who should have been a little intellectually curious what about the work going on at Government Center, really anybody who would have had this paperwork cross their desk, anyone who would have had to approve a purchase order or contract should have wondered 'gee who authorized that'. It didn't happen.

And really the fact that we didn't violate any laws because no money changed hands may comfort the mayor but I really don't think we should sit back and feel we "scored" 22 free windows. Global Glass did the work they deserve to get paid for it by way of having this applied to their tax bill.

Lefty's View: If you heard the baffling exchange today between Mayor Flanagan and Barry Richards on WSAR you'll probably feel that those crystal clear windows are the only thing offering up any transparency on the 6th floor of Government Center!

Update!!! Here is the link to the Mayor discussing this with Barry Richards. Well worth a listen!

Net School Spending, A Flawed Concept?

Net school spending is the amount of money that each school district in the state must spend on education. It is arrived at through a formula and includes a combination of Chapter 70 money and a contribution from the local city or town. 

The issue with net school spending is when a district fails to fund that net school spending at 100%. Communities can actually 'under-fund' the net school spending requirement to 95% but would need to pay additional 5% the following fiscal year. I suppose there are instances where an unintentional shortfall can be made up the following year but what happens when the community is struggling to hit these requirements to begin with and fall short. How does a struggling community pay 5% OVER what it needs to fund to reach 100% because of a carry over amount? And really what good does it do to pay that 5% (or whatever that shortfall amount is) the following year?

To me, this is a little bit like being required to keep your house at a 65 degrees during the winter but because of unforeseen expenses and maybe some budgeting you end up running the thermostat a few degrees cooler. The following winter you're told you need to keep the temperature at 68 degrees to hit the 65 degree requirement plus the shortfall from the previous year. Heck, if you had trouble heating the house at 65 degrees can you afford 68? And will running the thermostat at 68 degrees this winter really do anything to make the house warmer last winter? Of course not. So my concern is twofold, if you struggled to meet your requirements the previous year is it foolish to think you're going to be able to hit them and shortfall the following year? And if you do pay the shortfall forward how does that really help the student who in 4th grade may have been short changed? I just don't believe adding money the following year is going to really make up for the shortfall the year before.

The other issue with net school spending is there are expenses that we have to pay toward a school department that don't count toward that formula. I'm not an expert but I'm pretty sure health insurance is one of those costs. This is a little bit like buying a bunch of stuff off of Amazon and you're hoping to qualify for free shipping but you have a bunch of purchases that don't count toward "Super Saver Shipping". So your total bill is over the amount but you still need to come up with more money to hit the requirement! With something like health insurance cities and towns have been struggling for years with rising health insurance costs, meaning the total spending for the school department is increasing but it doesn't effect the bottom line for net school spending. 

Lefty's View: I really do understand the need to ensure that communities are properly funding their educational system. This is especially true when so much of your local school districts money comes from state funding. However, what that net school spending amount represents as far as a direct impact to the classroom is just not clear. Net school spending does not include health insurance and I believe other real school department costs that the community has to fund. What does it include? When we fund at 95% what impact does that have on the classroom? Net school spending should either represent every school expense or the amount that directly impacts a student's education. If it goes to the amount that directly impacts a student's education we shouldn't be allowed to under-fund it. If it doesn't than a waiver may be appropriate or perhaps, paying back the shortfall over the course of a few years to help ease the financial burden.