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It seems that not a week goes by that some new “un-anticipated event” crops up for the City Of Annapolis. When Mayor Cohen first took office, it was the financial condition that he inherited. Apparently no one told him what was happening or he did not have the moxie on his transition team to discover it.
Just off the top of my head, we were out of money and needed to borrow millions to make the payroll. We laid off employees and hired them back. We lost $150,000 from the finance office, and then the director resigned. We were still short of cash and the City asked the County for a “bridge loan” on the tax money due in October. The City paid a developer (Lehr-Jackson) a monthly stipend to ultimately walk away from the project when the news broke that this “savior” and his partners might have some financial issues of his own. The City Manager and Finance Director missed about $4 million in payments necessitating the need to borrow another $10 million to make ends meet. The budget was not cut, but increased to handle the additional spending. A union agreement was accepted to prevent furloughs and layoffs. Another union agreement is looking for similar terms. Moyer put in a pension plan for City employees that is completely unfunded to the tune of $46 million. We cannot afford it. And the Mayor and City Council is complacent with all of this. The Mayor professes that the City is understaffed! What’s next?
Funny you should ask. Now that the increased spending plan has been approved, City Manager, Mike Mallinoff comes clean to say that the City misused millions of dollars in bond payments last year–an act that Mallinoff dubs “an unfortunate circumstance.”
Where does it end. Aside from Ian Pfeiffer, Mat Silverman and Kenny Kirby, the entire Council and Mayor has been around for multiple administrations. If the City inherited all of these problems 6 of the people sitting in the Council chambers have had a direct role in the creation and continuance of the problems. Do any of them deserve to be re-elected the next time around? To their current position or to the Mayor’s office?
The City Is Burning
There is an old axiom that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. This is exactly what this administration is doing. They are robbing Peter to pay Paul (or perhaps they are robbing the taxpayer to pay themselves) and hoping to not get caught.
The City has a water issue. The water plant is failing and we will have to spend money to fix it. Since December 4, 2009 when Mayor Cohen took office there have been no fewer than 24 water main breaks in the City including the one this afternoon in the Wardour section. Do the math, it is 1.3 water breaks per month which involve inconvenience to residents, overtime for employees, and added expense to the City. But adding to the administrative payroll is acceptable.
We have a political appointee making $90,000 as a Fire Department spokesman. According to testimony at the City Council meeting, the fire department responds to 9,000 calls each year. Yet the public information officer has only sent 34 messages since November 2010 about the 4,500 (approximate) calls to which the fire department has responded. And in that number, I am including the ones that says “ There is no significant activity to report” and “remember to change your batteries” and of course the release about an event (EMS Week celebration) that occurred three days prior.
In The Capital’s article, the Mayor says that he and the City Manager were upfront with the bond rating agencies about this latest “unfortunate circumstance”. Cohen said, “We openly discussed that with the bond rating agencies when we visited in March, and we were very open about the fact that it occurred.” Perhaps, but I doubt it. What happened to the transparency? If the City was upfront about it in March with the rating agencies, why was it kept under wraps from the public for another 3 months? Was this something that had a chance to be hidden? Was that the intent of the Park Place payment and the insurance overrun?
The City of Annapolis no longer is enduring a series of “unfortunate circumstances.” They are enduring fiscal mismanagement. We have Aldermen who are completely unaware of even the most basic financial concepts. Classie Hoyle was recently quoted that she was ready to suggest a merit increase for the Finance Director. Sheila Finlayson says she can now admit that prior administrations were to blame; yet she fails to realize that she was part of that! Everyone is pointing fingers. Mallinoff says it wasn’t him, it was Elliott. Elliott says it was not him but went back further (wasn’t he with the City for close to 20 years?) to prior administrations.
Professional Audit Needed
Enough is enough. Some entity needs to step in here and do a complete top to bottom audit of the City’s finances. It should not be the County’s auditor due to the conflict of interest between her and Mayor Cohen. They need to dig deep into the closets to see if there are more Annapolis 300 Medallions to be found. To investigate the pending litigation against the City on any number of fronts and do a risk analysis. And to look at every penny that is received and how it is allocated. It might cost several hundred thousand dollars to do this, but it will be well worth it to get the City on the right track.