Stop Wasting the Financial Advisory Committee on Budgets


From a Northern Star article this week:

City manager Anne Marie Gaura said the finance committee typically reviews the budget and looks at policy recommendations and general fund balance.

“The goal is to utilize the finance advisory committee in the most effective means of how to benefit the budget and the community,” Gaura said. “It’s an incredibly talented group, and we want to make sure we’re utilizing their talents to the maximum.”

If we REALLY want to utilize the talents of the city’s Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) to the max, we need to move it past budgets.

The FAC was re-formed in spring 2008 in the midst of desperation about the FY2009 budget. However, council also intended to utilize FAC in strategic planning in the wake of the first report by the city’s contracted financial consultants in May 2009.

The city did begin making the shift when the FAC helped tackle one of the most serious of the structural budget issues, the post-employment health insurance benefit (OPEB). After that, FAC’s role in strategic planning was forgotten — a shame, since the finance director has said the OPEB work resulted in $20 million less in long-term financial obligations for DeKalb.

We are squandering an opportunity here. We have just changed city managers. Now’s the chance to dismantle an era of denial under the banner of “new management” without finger-pointing and recriminations. And it starts with mayor and council understanding that the city bureaucracy is not going to change itself, that the required strategic changes will come from the citizen-driven bodies of council and its committees.

Pull out the financial consultants’ analyses and recommendations from last June. Reverse the redactions in the report back to the full, unvarnished truth. Hand it off to the FAC as assigned reading, and ask the committee to meet at least monthly until it has concrete recommendations to present. Confab as desired and repeat as necessary.

The recipe may not be easy, but it IS simple. What it takes is leadership. Council?