… And the Mayor Swings Back
Mayor Domenic Sarno has responded to a letter from city councilors complaining that they’ve been left out of the municipal budget process with a scathing letter of his own, in which he suggests that councilors have forgotten their limited role in the process.
In his letter, Sarno writes that he was “frustrated and disappointed” by the councilors’ correspondence, and implies that their letter was driven by politics rather than a sincere desire to work together better: “This is not the best way to improve communications between the City Council and myself, assuming that is your goal,” Sarno writes.
Eleven of the City Council’s 13 members signed the original letter, which was dated May 17. Sarno responded one day letter. (Bill Dusty reports in the Springfield Intruder that councilors received the mayor’s reply Friday evening, as a number of them, along with Sarno, gathered for the annual Valley Press Club roast.)
In response to the councilors’ complaints that his administration has not provided them with adequate, timely information about the city budget, Sarno writes, “[A]pparently a lesson in Civics 101 is necessary.” Under Springfield’s Plan A form of government—commonly known as the “strong-mayor” plan—it’s his job, not the Council’s, to formulate and manage the city’s budget, he reminds them. “There is no formal role for the City Council in either preparing or executing the City budget,” Sarno writes; the councilors’ job is limited to adopting the budget submitted by the mayor or making cuts.
That said, Sarno goes on to defend his administration’s “transparency” on fiscal matters, writing, “I have gone further than any previous Mayor in sharing information with the City Council prior to submitting a budget to the City Council.” Sarno lists multiple public budget reports released and hearings held by his administration over the past year, and notes that councilors were invited to meet individually with member of his finance team,
Sarno reiterates his administration’s budget strategies—which, he notes, “have been no secret through every step of the process”: across-the-board budget cuts; raising revenue though increased fees; limited use of the city’s reserves “as not to drain its balance”; and requests for more state aid.
And he addresses specific questions posed in the councilors’ letter (and the criticisms underlying them), including on the issue of hiring decisions made by his administration. Any new hires made “were critical to City operations,” writes Sarno, adding that the number of “full-time equivalents” on the city payroll has dropped 18 percent since fiscal 2008, and that more than half of those 1,304 positions are in public safety.
By the end of the letter, Sarno adopts a more “can’t we all just get along” tone: “I have been and am still committed to making this difficult budget process transparent. We are one City with many challenges and we need all stakeholders to work together to get this done and to continue to move this City forward.
“My offer still stands to each of you to come to my office for coffee to discuss [the] budget in more detail.”
Will any of the councilors will take Sarno up on his invitation?