Sunday, December 14, 2008

Council President Gibson - Courier - Letter: CBAC failed in its task

Published in the Courier News, Saturday, December 13, 2008

[Letters to the Editor]
Citizens panel failed in its budget task

The editorial comment in the Courier News printed on Friday, Nov. 28, without a rational interpretation, requires what I consider a reasonable response. The report presented by the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee contains comments and recommendations that are inaccurate and lack any substantial documentation to support the conclusions.

The Courier News editorial stated I, as City Council president, complained the committee overstepped its bounds. Your inquiry of "What did he expect? Only positive opinions? No opinions at all?" [sic] What I expected were conclusions and recommendations based on facts. The truth is all any of us on the governing body should expect. I do not consider a request for accuracy "whining." For the record, I want your readers and the citizens of Plainfield to know I am not mad.

Under the CBAC Observations section the comment, "How can we expect parking tickets and potholes to be "high quality," if we're not," and the comment "Several city employees forget who pays them," without identifying either the employees or the work area of such employees (even if this were done in confidence) leaves one to conclude this comment is generally applicable.

The CBAC also indicates "more substantive cuts and efficiencies are possible." If that is true, the locations where such cuts could be made should have been identified.

In the report there is a general statement that the CBAC was "disappointed in City Council attendance and somewhat passive responses." The councilperson(s) should have been identified. As one who is serving in what is commonly referred to as a "lame-duck" status, I am proud of my continued attendance record during the time the CBAC has functioned.

The area of the report which should be carefully re-examined is entitled "CBAC Approach." There is no credibility in the 100 percent point totals. First, the "30" assigned to Public Safety together with the so-called grades fails to take into consideration the fact that the crime rate in our city has consistently been lowered. The subjective grading process with no statistics to back it up is, and should be cause for concern. This section goes on to include a "25" for performance/reputation of the school system with a consistent "F" grade for the public schools performance. This area should not have been a part of the budget process as the city administration nor the municipal council has any control over the budget of the Plainfield Board of Education.

The section of the report entitled "Overall Budget Recommendations - 1," states "No Budget Increase." Presuming all the members of the committee have a degree of concern for what was presented on their behalf, they should know there is no way, considering contractual agreements, the Council can arrive at a zero percent increase. The CBAC states there has been "Significant progress made in the last three years to reduce operating expenses, and further, 2008-2009 budget faces extraordinary conditions." This is probably the most accurate comment in the report.

The "Overall Recommendations 2 and 3" have credible suggestions although there may be areas where the council cannot do more than suggest the changes to the administration.

We clearly recognize it is our responsibility to strike a budget but we also must recognize their [sic] are services which must be made available. There is no quarrel on my part with the CBAC effort to do a good job. The resulting report is a document with errors of fact and judgment.

Finally, the area of recommendations in the Appendix is full of first person, "I" and "My" preceding recommendations. It makes the final determinations appear to be one person's judgment as opposed to a committee.

I respect the Courier News' right and obligation to express, as the editorial states, "Our Position." I ask for nothing less.

Harold Gibson
City Council

NOTE: This letter appeared in the print edition cited above, but not online. I have transcribed it exactly as it appeared in the printed newspaper, without editing or 'tidying up'. -- Dan Damon

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About Me

Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.