Monday, December 22, 2008

I blog on Saturday, hear it on Monday on NPR

I go back and forth about the news media in Boston. The quality of the papers have gone down, so why do you pay for something which isn't of great quality? On the other hand I strongly believe in the fourth estate, and believe it important to keep the other 3 branches of government in line. I support WBUR as I listen to public radio all the time. I suppose I support the Herald and the Globe by looking at their websites, although I'm not much of a consumer and don't buy much other than tools and motorcycles.

I'm not sure what to think about situations like this morning in my shower. Loyal reader and writer the ZAK sent me the minutes from the Financial Commission from September and November, with some thoughts about whether open meeting law violations occurred. However, I found the information very interesting. The FINCOM as we call it does yeoman's work for the citizens of Boston, some of the people at city hall who really earn their keep. Although we have gained 1400 employees of the City Government in the last 5 years, we have kept the FINCOM at 3 employees. Can you imagine having 1400 new employees but not adding one financial overseer to look at what they are doing? My either, but such is the collective wisdom of the Mayor and City Council.

Anyway, I posted the FINCOM minutes with comments. A Herald writer magically wrote about the FINCOM findings for Monday's paper, and WBUR, which gets its news from the Herald and the Globe, (as no one has money for staff anymore) reported it on the air this morning. As I was groggily waking up and taking a shower I was listening to the news in the background thinking to myself "didn't I just write about that a couple days ago?"

The big point is that this should have been news over a month ago!!! If we really valued media, we could pay people to monitor and report on what is going on at the State House and City Hall. It is precisely this lack of reporting which leads to these incestuous deals that sometimes blow up into headlines. Certainly we weren't going to get a notice or a hearing from the city councilors or Mayor about what a bad job we are doing about getting meters installed.

So, here goes for round 2, here are the FINCOM minutes from September. Phrases jump out at you like "Many of the district supervisors have been in their jobs for long periods of time with little or no management skills". BTD is "$14 million under projections", or "City uses an awkward system to collect those revenues and does not maximize collections." when talking about mooring fees. It almost makes you think that someone should be managing more and lighting christmas trees less.

Here is the report:

Minutes of the Meeting of September 30, 2008

The Finance Commission meeting was convened at 5:30pm at its office, 152 North St., Boston.

The first item of business was a new inquiry involving the potential stealing of gas at the Mt. Hope cemetery. The Commission was informed that the staff had received an anonymous complaint that an employee was stealing fuel in the evening and putting it directly into his private vehicle. The staff conducted a preliminary review of the complaint as it appeared to have validity. The normal city controls for fuel management were not in place at Mt. Hope which would allow for fuel to be stolen particularly as it appeared that the individual who managed the fuel might be the employee stealing it. The staff determined that fuel had been taken after the cemetery was closed for the day and prior to it reopening in the morning. At this point nothing further had been determined including how widespread the theft might be and why nothing had been done. The Commission was advised that it may be necessary to utilize subpoena power for the conduct of the investigation and the Commission unanimously approved such use. The Commission asked to be kept up to date on the progress of this matter.

The staff has continued to monitor Boston Transportation Department (BTD) revenues and at this point in the fiscal year the numbers are troubling. Parking fine revenue, estimated by the City to be $77 million this fiscal year is running below the FY 2008 income by $1.4 million which would result in revenue falling below $63 million or $14 million under projections. BTD has encountered trouble putting the new multi-space meters on the street. The single space meters are not due for delivery until late October. With fewer working meters on the street not only is meter revenue down but ticket issuance and ticket revenue as well. The Commission directed the staff to closely monitor this matter including being out on the street to determine what needs to be done to remedy the problem.

The Public Works Highway Division reorganization remains a work in progress. The Commission was informed that the change at the top had been productive but that overall progress remains slow. Time, attendance and daily management has improved but the district management issues remain. Many of the district supervisors have been in their jobs for long periods of time with little or no management skills. The staff visits at least one district yard weekly which gets the message out that PWD will continue to be watched by the Commission.

The staff has been working with City officials to enhance the collection of boat excise taxes and mooring permit fees. The City uses an awkward system to collect those revenues and does not maximize collections. The main problem is the data base used to manage the collections. It is driven by registration numbers which is problematic as well over half the boats moored in Boston waters are owned by people living outside the city. The registrations do not identify where a boat is habitually moored. Most coastal communities use a system that identifies boats kept within that community. The staff will be providing the City's Collector's office with a better plan of action on this matter.

The first few months of the fiscal year are busy with the review of unadvertised contracts. During the past month the staff has received over eighty such contracts. A number of contracts have been rejected due to costs and the status of the city of the budget. School Department personal service contracts have had more extensive review due to the problems we encountered last year when the number of such contracts jumped dramatically.

Under other business the Commission voted to go into executive session to discuss some several areas of potential review.

A true copy.
Jeffrey W. Conley
Executive Director

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