Proposal to establish citizen review panel eyed by Crestwood Board of Aldermen

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood aldermen who say they are tired of the perception that city leaders cannot be trusted with money are discussing plans for a committee of citizens to monitor some of the city’s spending.

A proposal to form a citizen review committee designed to study the activity of the city’s capital improvements fund tentatively is scheduled to be voted on by the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, March 28.

Board of Aldermen President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2 said he proposed the idea as a step toward establishing more trust between the residents and the Board of Aldermen.

“It’ll solve the problem of whether our citizens are trustworthy of this board and future boards,” Trueblood said. “I think its design and its intent totally and solely is to rectify the problem we’re still dealing with when different funds of the city were blended into one pot — that pot where we thought we were or should have been able to get to. We didn’t have the right information. It’s to offset that problem for the future to regain the trust of the citizens of the city, and that’s the only reason I would ever suggest this.”

As proposed, the committee would include one citizen member from each of Crestwood’s four wards, the president of the Board of Aldermen and the city administrator. Committee members must be 21 years old, reside in Crestwood for at least one year prior to appointment and not serve on any other city board or committee. Each committee member would serve a one-year term, according to the proposal.

But some city officials, notably Mayor Roy Robinson, said during the March 14 Board of Aldermen meeting that they have some problems with the latest proposal, which was formulated by Trueblood and Ward 1 Alderman Richard LaBore.

Robinson said he does not see the necessity for such a citizen review committee because the city already has such officials as City Administrator Frank Myers, City Attorney Rob Golterman and the Board of Aldermen itself to watch spending.

“This board or commission that you’re trying to establish has no power,” Robinson said to the Board of Aldermen. “They’re only advice. So I’m wondering why we want to get involved in something like this, which would actually usurp — the board’s actually abdicating its responsibility for making these decisions. These decisions on expenditures and money is in accordance with state law, which is the reason we have a city attorney. I see no real use in having a committee like this. I’m laying it out early for you so you know I’m not crazy about it.”

But LaBore emphasized that the committee would not undermine any decisions made by the Board of Aldermen and is simply another way of having checks and balance in the city’s budget.

“The committee’s responsibility has nothing to do with decisions, veto or commentary on this board’s decisions on capital improvement funds,” LaBore said. “Alderman Trueblood’s original intent was the committee would simply say: ‘Yes, the plans are in line with the city’s definition of capital improvement.’ And at the end of the year, say: ‘Yes, the expenditures were in line with capital improvement funds.'”

But while the committee’s actual powers were discussed by the board, other aldermen, including Ward 3 Aldermen Don Maddox and Jerry Miguel, also questioned why the committee should only be used for checking the city’s capital improvements sales tax fund and also the shortness of the one-year terms in the proposal.

“I just think that it’s a good idea, but it’s directed at the wrong fund,” Maddox said. “I think that some kind of citizen input would be an excellent idea. But it shouldn’t just be to the capital improvement fund. I also think that giving them one year appointed to the committee is way too less. If you’re going to use knowledgeable, financial people within the community, give them two years, three years. Let them pick the problem area they want to deal with. Don’t restrict them to the capital improvement fund. All of us struggle with the budget and the financing. It is mind-boggling. There’s numbers, numbers, numbers, numbers. They just blow you away. I don’t think that a group of people, unless they’re committed or were all retirees and committed the bulk of the time, I don’t think one year is enough to be assigned to this kind of oversight.”

Crestwood Ward 4 Alderman Joseph O’Keefe said while he appreciates Maddox’s ideas, he believes that the city’s capital improvements sales tax fund is the perfect place for citizen review to begin because it is in good shape. His logic is that the better the shape a fund is in, the easier it will be for citizens to learn the review process.

“I agree with most of the comments (Maddox) said, except for saying it’s directed at the wrong fund,” he said. “I’m open to other funds, too, if that’s appropriate with what the board wants. But the reason I think this capital improvements fund is a good place to start for a committee like this is because it is in decent shape.”

Miguel also addressed the possibility of adding citizen members to the Crestwood Ways and Means Committee as a way to give them more oversight over city spending.

At the same time, Miguel also pointed out that the very audience members who sit at each Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting are already taking part in city government.

“We’ve got 40 people out here,” Miguel said to the aldermen. “They’re here and they come to these meetings. Here’s your citizen review committee. And they speak every meeting and they’re not just limited to twice a year. And sometimes we’d be well advised to listen to what they have to say.”

Robinson contends that city officials already listen to citizen input through the Board of Aldermen meetings and that residents also can access the city’s Web site for detailed information.

“Years ago, we didn’t have the Internet,” Robinson said. “And any citizen who wants to look at the budget, if they have questions concerning expenditures or anything that is broken down to the nth degree, if they have concerns, that’s the reason we have these meetings. They come and say: ‘I don’t think you’re doing it correctly,’ or ‘This looks like this is wrong.’ I think that’s the reason why we have these open meetings. And that’s not the concern. Why are we adding another step that has no power to do anything? It’s hard to get qualified people to sit on these boards.”

But Trueblood said his intent behind the proposed citizen review committee is to further educate citizens on the very questions that they pose at Board of Aldermen meetings.

“Our citizens come to us and speak to us and try to ask questions that we really cannot answer in the depth that we need to,” Trueblood said. “The intent of the committee is to have that reassurance that there are a group of people present to do that. And if they have a question, they can ask that question or be assured.

“I just feel that we as a board at this particular part of our city’s history would be smart to try to start this process.”