Thursday, March 6, 2014

Revisionist History in the Making

by Sue Nielsen

One topic of discussion at the recent Belle Isle Candidate Forum was the May 7, 2013 City Council meeting at which I pointed out to our City Council a $300,000 error in proposed Resolution 13-02. This resolution was an amendment to the 2012-2013 Belle Isle City Budget. As proposed at the May 7, 2013 meeting, Resolution 13-02 contained a $300,000 error on page four, entitled "Exhibit B."

After Mayor Brooks openly and publicly acknowledged the $300,000 error at the May 7 meeting, the Council proceeded to approve it anyway with a vote of 6 to 1, with the intention to correct this error after it passed. Commissioner Readey voted against Resolution 13-02 because he believed that this error should have been corrected prior to approval. You can read more about it in the meeting summary linked below:

City Council Meeting Summary - May 7, 2013

So why is a financial error from ten months ago, and which has since been corrected, relevant today? Because Mayor Brooks and Commissioner Spaulding are now telling residents that no such error ever occurred. Moreover, City Hall employees have been taking time out of their busy days to back up Mr. Spaulding's claim with "proof" that there was never any error.

Here's the long and short of it. If you go to the City's website today, you will find three things:

(1) The meeting agenda for May 7, 2013, which includes proposed Resolution 13-02 but does not include Exhibit B. At the time of the meeting, Exhibit B was included, as you can see in the original printed copy of Resolution 13-02 linked below. If you look at the third line from the bottom of the original Exhibit B, you will see a figure of $1,105,858 (the erroneous value).

(2) The final version of Resolution 13-02, which contains a corrected Exhibit B with a value of $1,405,858 (the corrected value) on the third line from the bottom. 

(3) The meeting minutes for May 7, 2013, which state that Sue Nielsen "had some concerns on Resolution 13-02. Ms. Nielsen provided a copy of her questions to the Clerk for the record which is attached." However, those questions are not actually attached to the May 7 minutes, despite the fact that prior months' minutes always included citizens' written questions and statements. You can find a copy of these written questions linked below.


To sum up, City Hall has eliminated all evidence of the $300,000 error from its website, along with all evidence that a resident ever pointed such out an error.

My real concern is not the $300,000 budget error itself, which has since been corrected, but City Hall's willingness to boldly claim that the error never occurred. Considering the amount of discussion about openness and transparency I have heard in Council meetings over the past year, it is disappointing to see our elected representatives put this much work into denying that a small mistake was pointed out by a resident.

People, as well as governments, all make mistakes. There is no need to revise our City's history to exclude the fact that a resident pointed out an error to the Council for correction. Instead, we should be celebrating the fact that we have so many residents willing to offer their time, experience and insight. Our City should be encouraging more residents to get involved, so that we can employ their skills and knowledge for the benefit of our community!

10 comments:

  1. I am appalled, but not surprised that this would occur. Is this why the minutes of the meetings are held from the public until they are approved? So they can be, not edited for typos, but changed in content? This is just another reason why the City Council should vote to publish minutes in their entirety within days of the meeting, whether approved or not. There is a proper way to handle public documents, and this is not it.

    Perhaps we should invite someone from the Florida Ethics Commission or even the Attorney General's office to do a workshop and to review Belle Isle's "systems" and explain to our City Government/staff how they can better implement the Sunshine Laws and avoid any appearance of wrongdoing. The Supervisor of Elections was well received recently and I see no reason why we cannot invite some folks from Tallahassee to help improve Belle Isle's current practices. I am sure it would be enlightening for us all.

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  2. Maybe this happens more than we realize or would be admitted to. Maybe this is where the City found the funds to pay our city manager such an outrageous salary. Maybe something like this was the way our elected officials found to fund so many of the other questionable projects. Maybe... the list goes on and on!!

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  3. Pam Bondi
    Office of Attorney General
    State of Florida
    The Capitol PL-01
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
    Telephone: 850-414-3300 & 866-966-7226

    ReplyDelete
  4. http://www.ethics.state.fl
    http://www.ethics.state.fl.us/ethics/ArticleIISec8.html.us/ethics/Chapter_112.html

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is what we need in BI.

    Town creates fiscal transparency system
    by: Kurt Schultheis, Managing Editor, Longboat Key Observer, 2/26
    The town of Longboat Key has created a new fiscal transparency system that’s available on the town’s website.
    The Information Technology Department developed a “Fiscal Transparency” system, which is an application that provides a unique level of transparency in municipal budgeting.
    The application provides five years worth of current and historical expenditure data as well as graphing tools and also the ability to export the data to Microsoft Excel. 7

    Taxpayers can view revenues budgeted for the current fiscal year, revenue amounts collected so far and updates on the town’s general, utility and building funds.
    The system is updated daily and is updated on the town’s web site.
    The application can be accessed through www.longboatkey.org.
    (Below is a note to me from Kathi Pletzke, LBK IT Director. Great job!!! -ken)
    The Town of Longboat Key, FL may be a small island community, but we are committed to be a leader in providing fiscal transparency.
    We developed a new system called “Fiscal Transparency”, which is available through our website. This application provides an unique level of transparency in municipal budgeting. The App provides a high level “Executive” view, with five years worth of current and historical expenditure data as well as graphing tools and also the ability to export the data to EXCEL. People wonder how Detroit could have gone bankrupt…with transparency like this…that situation won’t be repeated (at least not in LBK)!
    What you will see in PIE chart view are Revenues budgeted for the fiscal year (and actual YTD amounts collected so far) for the 3 major funds (General, Utility and Building plus all other funds). You can also toggle to see the expenditures for each fund.
    The data displayed is dynamic; directly from the Town’s financial system. It is as current as of the last posting.
    We launched this App last Friday and have received nothing but positive reviews. Please go to the Town's website to get the interactive version.

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  6. I am seriously wondering if this is how things have been run for decades and we are only now finding out the truth by a few brave concerned residents. Most of us do not pay attention to what or how Belle Isle is operating or who does what. I think we need to open our eyes and start looking into the wrongdoings that are so open and obvious. It causes me to wonder what they are doing behind closed doors. Very sad state for Belle Isle.

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  7. Sue Nielson Terrifies Mayor Brooks because she does her homework by exposing screw-ups by city officials. If elected she would help keep the system transparent which would drive Mayor Brooks and his cronies nuts. Numerous blunders such as the $83,000 clock(our mayor's own design) that should have cost less than $10,000 at the corner of Conway Road and Hoffner, the sudden need by the police department for another $90,000 dollars recently to keep their equipment up, the Nela Isle bridge upgrade/beautification cost overruns (cost was in the thousands), the aborted fire department concept, and on and on.
    A Frustrated Commissioner

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  8. If we, as Belle Isle residents, don't pay attention to such things that are brought to light whether they be candidates or plain citizens such as Ms Neilsen was when she did her homework on the error -- then we are definitely part of the problem. Kudos to Ms Neilsen. We need more people in those Commissioners' seats! Errors are made by human beings. These same human beings should step up and acknowledge same.

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  9. Boy does BI Sun ever twist the truth! ! Sue fried herself in the FIRST SENTENCE OF THE THIRD PARAGRAPH OF THE ARTICLE Revisionist History in the Making. She is the reason the matter is relevant 10 months later. ... At the Feb 17, 2014 "meet and greet the candidates" she told the audience that she had found a $300K error in Belle Isle books. .... SHE DIDN'T BOTHER TO SAY BELLE ISLE CORRECTED IT. So, we in the audience are lead to believe very negative thoughts about Belle Isle City Hall; which in my opinion, was her political goal.
    Wow BELLE ISLE SUN obviously has a huge political agenda to twist the truth so much!!!

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  10. Election.. March 11, 2014 ....... Can't Wait ! !

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