Tue, Aug

Forget the Budget Kabuki, How about City Budgeting Based on Performance?

BOX SOAP - City Council’s Budget & Finance Committee has proven so efficient at rubber-stamping the Mayor’s proposed budget that they recessed early. They apparently made sufficient noise as the City’s department chiefs  paraded through council chambers in defense of their departments and their budgets.

Those speaking before the Committee tend to fall into one of three categories; those who completely fold and then overflow with gratitude for the privilege of maintaining their position as the head of an eviscerated department, those who accept the preordained but refuse to give it their blessing, and those who resist and call out the Mayor and City Council for their folly.

City Planning’s GM, Michael LoGrande, gave a category one performance, thanking anybody within thanking range and then accepting his fate, a loss for the people of LA who depend on a strong planning department as LA’s land-use debates continue to fracture communities.

Jon Kirk Mukri, General Manager of Recreation and Parks, came armed for battle and prepared for debate, but made no headway as the Mayor’s “cost-recovery” scheme continues to prey selectively on charter departments that deserve better.

William Carter of the City Attorney’s office, standing in for Carmen Trutanich, gave a fiery performance, calling out the budget as an abdication of responsibility, rejecting the cuts and building a solid case for the value of his department.

On the whole, most department heads showed up ready to discuss departmental headcount, furlough impacts on staffing levels, and empty positions that needed to be filled. Few and far between were the discussions over intended performance, actual performance and proposed performance.

Demonstrating the difference a year can make, BongHwan (BH) Kim of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment did well in standing out from the crowd as he introduced DONE’s “Performance Dashboard” and spoke affirmatively of the past year and the upcoming year.

On the one hand, as the City of LA wallows in the budget crisis, it’s sad that the Committee spent so much time discussing neighborhood council stakeholder definitions and elections but it serves as a reminder that most people experience the $463 million budget gap on a personal level.

The proposal on the table for neighborhood councils was a 10% cut in funding (to $40,500 from $45,000) and the loss of rollover funds. Councilmen Koretz and Rosendahl made strong cases for protecting the encumbered funds, pointing out that many NC projects take years to complete and that the funding must be protected.

Other issues that came up were NC elections and the options that would allow councils to select boardmembers without having to spend millions of dollars as was the case with the City Clerk elections.

On the subject of elections, stakeholder definitions, by-law revisions, and funding options, Kim made two points; that much work was being performed by DONE in conjunction with NC Task Forces, and that CD2 (Paul Krekorian, Chair of the Education & Neighborhoods Committee) was working on the legislative revisions that are necessary for addressing structural issues.

The Mayor’s proposed budget was released to the City Council on April 20, and the Budget & Finance Committee took a week to review it before commencing with its Budget Hearings, a process that recessed several days early as enthusiasm faded and the opportunity to take on real structural change slipped away.

Budget & Finance is back at it today and tomorrow for a final polish and then presents it to the full City Council on Friday. Council has until June 1 to return the proposed budget with any recommended changes to the Mayor for the final stage of the approval process.

As the budget hearings fade into the sunset, neighborhood councils have a short amount of time to do three very important things; call your City Councilmember and speak up to protect rollover (encumbered but non-invoiced) funds, call DONE and give the GM encouragement if you like the direction he’s going, and start thinking now about which City Councilmember should head up the Education & Neighborhoods Committee when the City Council shuffles committee assignments in July.

Most importantly, speak up if you like the Performance Management style of departmental budget presentation, one where the year starts with projected performance. Department heads would be evaluated based on their goals and their accomplishments, their budgets would be set based on service commitments, not simply protecting headcounts.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected]. )     -cw

Vol 9 Issue 37
Pub: May 10, 2011