Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cooper City and the $$’s

Below is a letter that was forwarded to us. It has been sent to many and especially the City Commissioners.
We are confident that many others would like to hear from someone who definitely has an opinion of what really is going on at the city. We have reviewed it and feel it should be shared with everyone.

To all:

I am glad that the special workshop has been called. For several years we have been misled, in my judgment, as to the City's financial standing and health by dubious reporting of unrestricted reserves, what could and could not be transferred from one fund to another at the commission's discretion, what was and was not required by law and regulation and what was and was not within the guidelines of generally accepted accounting principals. As a result, the commission never seemed to know with certainty what its available recourses were and/or how big an opportunity or problem it faced.

Some progress has been made. At last the commission seems to understand that it can transfer money between W&S (Water and Sewer) and the general fund ( and vice-versa ) as in its judgement seems necessary and prudent. Hopefully, it now understands that there are not 2,3 or 4 sacrosanct reserve funds. There is only 1 unrestricted reserve fund, portions of which it can "earmark" for convenience sake as being "thought of" as for one thing or another. Otherwise city funds can only be restricted by contract terms, the law and /or state and county regulations. Neither the staff nor the commission can "restrict" funds without a legally sufficient reason.

However, we still seem to have some in the staff and/or commission who wish to manipulate the picture for some purposes or another by calling things "restricted" that are not according to law, regulation or the opinion of the Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting Programs or just good common sense.

For instance, in the 2007 CAFR (Cumulative Annual Financial Report) the city manager had to say that the city staff wanted to call some $7.7 million in future interest requirements as requiring that amount of cash and investments should be called "restricted" and not counted in unrestricted reserves. The GOFOA said that the staff and city should not do that. But, the staff did it anyway. The city manager said that doing it the way the GOFOA said was proper would have shown unrestricted reserves as $23.2 million for FY2007 vs. the $15.5 million the staff wished us to see.----- about a $7.2 million difference.

This approximate difference is still with us today in the material distributed on 6/11/09. By my calculations from that material the city had at least $25,171,780 in unrestricted reserves (surplus) on 9/30/08. The staff's number would be in the range of $18 million or some $7 million in difference. Most of that difference comes from projected interest payments that will come due over a number of future years for W&S bonds and notes. The staff wishes to say that this money needs to be "restricted".

This is just plain silly. First, the Water and Sewer is running at about a $1,500,000 surplus on an annual basis. This is far more than enough to cover its current principal and interest bills. It is also analogous to saying that a person who takes out a $200,000 mortgage at 6% for 30 years should be required to set aside and not touch an amount equal to all the interest that he will pay over the life of the mortgage--say, $350,000 to $400,000 ----as a "reserve" or "restricted". It makes no more sense for a city government to do so than it would for a homeowner.

The commission needs to straighten out the staff on this and very quickly. We have major financial matters to handle. We do not need to be dealing with misleading numbers. The staff did a mediocre job of providing an outlook for FY 2009. With 2/3 of the year done, they could have easily projected year end 9/30/09. They did not.

All you get by digging is that the general fund has a $600,000 plus surplus through 5/31/09 and the proprietary funds are running at about a $1,500,000 surplus rate (about 16% of revenues). The staff also shows projections through 2013, with dubious assumptions showing that we will eat up more than the general fund surplus by 2013. Unfortunately, they provide no such 5 year projection for the enterprise funds. So we are only given half a picture here. So, we do not have a projection for the city for all its responsibilities. The commission needs to insist that it be given a projection for all of its activities, including the pension funds, ASAP. This "piecemeal" just has to stop.

My own bottom line is that the city has more than enough funds to take care of its core, critical jobs and responsibilities such as police, fire and a new fire station and essential, repeat essential, W&S and road/sidewalk maintenance projects for the next 2 or three years without raising taxes.
The first thing it needs to do is to put the $4,000,000 that was lost (due to stock market investments) by the general employees pension fund into the fund to make it whole and keep our word and commitments to our employees. But, it does not have enough money to waste on needless building and special interest projects, such as a new city hall, needless code rewrites and various other giveaway programs.

Best regards,
Ed Wooley

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hello, Cooper City Mayor are you listening?

Open Government in a Democracy

by Jordan Loar

Exercising a policy of open government is fundamental to a successful democratic government and its society. It is the antithesis of government officials planning and executing secret transactions behind locked doors in a smoke filled room. An open government supports the basic democratic principle that the government’s authority rests with the society it governs. Toward safeguarding that power, citizens must have open access to information relating to government activities.
Judge Damon Keith of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals points out that, “Democracies die behind close doors.” The role of an open government in a democracy is to provide transparency, accountability, and openness. These principles are not simply hypothetical ideas. Each one can be functionally applied through suitable legislature, policies, and organizational frameworks at all levels of government.

Transparency means that dependable, pertinent, and timely information about government’s business is publicly available. To accomplish this, an open government’s role is to enact laws and policies that afford rights of access to information. It strives to grant a relatively easy path for citizens in obtaining information collected, distributed, and preserved by the government. Achieving this transparency is a complex process that often necessitates the careful balancing of opposing interests. An open government continually searches for the best way to allow judicious public admittance to information while at the same time protecting national security and individual privacy. Toward this end, government officials must actively apply government legislation like the Freedom of Information Act and its nine exemptions. Placing emphasis on the fullest responsibility of disclosure in concert with encompassing, balancing, and protecting all interests.

Accountability means that it is possible to identify and hold government officials responsible for their actions. This trait of an open government helps ensure that government officials do not operate behind closed curtains while managing the government as their own exclusive club. James Madison, “The Father of Our Constitution”, forewarned, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or, perhaps both.” Without this check, government officials are more prone to make decisions contrary to the public interest, misuse their authority, and engage in fraudulent activities.

Openness means that government officials must pay attention to citizens’ proposals when devising and implementing public policies. Their responsibility regarding this is to establish government policies instructing how citizens should be consulted during policy making. Moreover, it is just as important to stipulate how policy makers are to account for public input when reaching decisions. Open forums and town hall meeting are two examples that lend themselves to citizens’ voices being heard and recognized.

The role of an accessible government is to promote democracy and good government. Essentially, it is the soul of democracy. Implementing transparency, accountability, and openness into the government’s administration secures the trust and confidence of the public towards the government that serves them. It ensures that its citizens’ rights are respected and protected while simultaneously reducing the potential for unwarranted secrecy and corruption.