Eureka’s Finance Director Paul Rodrigues responded to our post on Measure O last Friday. In his comments, he attempted to refute almost all of the questions we had put forward. However, the answers he gave still don’t address the questions we asked. In fact, they raised new questions. Although we are thankful for his responses, the fact is the City Council and City Staff have failed in their jobs as stewards of the Measure O tax revenue.
Rodrigues wrote, “The ordinance, as written specifically names the Finance Advisory Committee as a viable Oversight Committee, as opposed to creating another committee.” Wrong. The ordinance is below, and it does have an added sentence that wasn’t included on the ballot information. However, it’s pretty clear to us that this Council is not following the spirit or letter of the law. Instead, they have used a loophole to keep the public in the dark.
“Consistent with Eureka’s value to be transparent, a Citizens Oversight Committee shall be established to conduct annual audits of all expenditures generated by the tax to ensure fiscal accountability and public participation. The Oversight Committee may be substituted with the City’s existing Finance Advisory Committee.”
Rodrigues also tried to assert that the rubber stamp acceptance of his reports by the Finance Advisory Committee counted as an independent “audit”. That sounds pretty similar to how Enron used to operate. That is so ridiculous that no further comment from the Examiner is needed.
Paul tried to answer our questions regarding how the unspent funds were being handled. He wrote, “Again, the reserves are set aside and designated as having come from Measure O. For fye 6-30-13,the amount transferred and was almost one million dollars….this will allow the Council in the coming years to build up some Measure O reserves and accomplish some long term projects and…they would be most likely, public safety projects like a new fire station…”.
Wow. Almost a million dollars put back into the general fund last budget cycle that will “most likely” be spent public safety. Quite a guarantee. I guess that’s what the City considers accountability. On top of that, Rodrigues wrote that about 79% of Measure O funds were “budgeted” for public safety. If they didn’t spend 25% of the funds, then that puts the actual figure of Measure O public safety spending at around 54%. In other words, when you get through all of the double speak, public safety only received about half of the Measure O funding in the last budget cycle. And that’s only if we take the City’s word for it, as there is no clear information on the City’s website for us to review.
Paul also wrote, “Police did not take a “pay cut”. This is completely false. Entry level police officers now start at a lower level of pay then they did in 2012. All cops and dispatchers now pay a higher percentage toward their health insurance. For families, this can be over $200 more deducted from their paycheck every month. Additionally, they also pay more toward their retirement. They didn’t get pay raises, so now their take home pay is less than it was in 2012. That is most definitely a pay cut, no matter how the city wants to package it.
What’s this all add up to? The city hasn’t been transparent with how Measure O funds are being spent. There hasn’t actually been a Citizens Committee formed to audit the fund. Millions have gone back into the general fund with no guarantee that they will be spent on public safety. And to top it all off, public safety is paid less than they were in 2012. This all adds up to one word: Failure.
The Examiner wonders what the voters will do when the city comes back with hat in hand and asks for an extension of this tax? Only time will tell, cause the ‘good old boys’ aren’t gonna’ want to give up this pot of gold.