New board to decide fate of Crestwood citizen review committee

By BURKE WASSON

The fate of a proposed financial review committee designed to give Crestwood residents an extra hand in city affairs now will be decided by the newly elected Board of Aldermen.

Current board members voted 5-2 on April 11 to postpone discussion on the committee until the new Board of Aldermen meets in its next Saturday work session. At the moment, no work sessions have been scheduled. The new board will meet for the first time Tuesday, when all four new aldermen will take the oath of office.

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding, who made the motion to delay further discussion of the proposed financial review committee, told fellow aldermen that while he agrees in principle with the bill, he also believes that new board members should have a chance to look at it.

“I’d like to do some sort of work session for the new board,” Breeding said at the April 11 meeting. “Half this board won’t be here. I’d like the new board to start off with a policy that is a very good policy, but mainly they want to make changes to it or whatever. And we’ve wasted an awful lot of time tonight. Well, not wasted, but spent a lot of time. What I’d like to see us do is give us a Saturday work session and allow three or fours hours on this topic only and then let the new board come up with their policy.”

After Breeding’s motion, board members voted 5-2 to postpone discussion on the committee. Outgoing board President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2, who originally proposed the committee to the board last year, joined Ward 4 Alderman Joseph O’Keefe to vote against the postponement. Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher was absent.

The language of the bill proposing the committee was substantially changed April 11 after outgoing Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox submitted his proposed changes to the bill. Among the most drastic changes were:

• Giving the review committee power to oversee each fund in Crestwood instead of simply studying spending in the city’s capital improvement sales tax fund.

• Lengthening the term for committee members from one year to three years.

• And requiring “financial credentials demonstrable by experience and/or education” for each committee member.

Items left in Trueblood’s original proposal call for the committee to meet with the Board of Aldermen twice each year. The committee would include one member from each of Crestwood’s four wards, the Board of Aldermen president and the city administrator. Committee members must be 21, reside in Crestwood for at least one year before appointment and not serve on any other city board or committee.

While some aldermen questioned whether allowing committee members the power to review each fund would overwhelm them, Maddox said members simply could pick and choose which fund they would like to review at each time.

With Maddox’s changes added to the bill, Trueblood said he believes the committee bill is now stronger than ever. But he also sees muddy prospects for its passage.

“I think that bill could pass and should pass if given the opportunity by objective aldermen who aren’t under the pressure of folks who — for whatever reason — feel offended by the content,” Trueblood said. “I think the bill is a much better bill than what I originally did. Will it pass, though? I don’t know.”

Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel and Mayor Roy Robinson both have said they do not support the proposed committee for varying reasons.

Miguel has said that the committee would interfere with aldermen’s authority to manage city finances and essentially “put the board in a straitjacket.”

Robinson said he is worried that city leaders won’t be able to find four qualified people to serve on the committee and that the committee itself would be too ineffective to start that search.

“I think it’s going to be hard to find these people,” Robinson said. “There’s all these young, professional people who think they know how to go out and do financials, and that might be very well true. But I think it remains to be seen if we can find the quality people that (aldermen) are talking about to review the budget. One thing we can’t do is allow any type of committee like this to interfere with how our city staff does and what the board’s doing in terms of the budget year.”

While the mayor is pessimistic about the chances of finding qualified people to serve on the committee, Trueblood said he believes residents certainly are capable.

“I think there’s a false impression of what the job is going to require,” Trueblood said. “And I’m kind of surprised at that. I’m surprised at some of the comments made during meetings about the inability to find people in Crestwood to do this. Because there certainly wasn’t a shortage of these individuals who could take apart the budget and put it back together again with tax rates or proposals in the last three years when they objected to some of the policies and procedures that that board and that mayor were putting together. Now we have an issue where we’re looking for those same people to do this, and (Robinson) says we don’t have the capability. That surprised me.”

As far as city staff involvement with the proposed board goes, City Administrator Frank Myers said he believes that over time, the committee could become a useful tool for the board. He said if aldermen look at the committee as an evolving process rather than an immediate cure, it could be successful.

“I served a community where the board wanted to approve a financial review committee not too different from what we’re talking about,” Myers said. “And a lot of concerns raised I think were concerns that were felt. And the staff was particularly concerned because we didn’t know what kind of time commitment it was going to take. But I will tell you that as we got into it and worked with it, we found that over time — not immediately — but over time, it became useful. Individuals who initially served but are not as into it and realize the time commitments, they’re going to slowly weed themselves out. If you look at this as a process rather than an immediate impact on helping you with fiscal policy, I think you could achieve some great things. You’ve got to let this committee evolve over time and become effective. If you have that kind of patience and understand that it takes some time, I believe certainly the staff can work with them to help them be effective over time.”