Saturday, April 2, 2011

Transparency in City Spending

I am pleased to announce that this Monday the City Council will conduct a study session on possible amendments to the City's rules and regulations regarding transparency in City spending.  This was an issue that I raised at the City's goal-setting session early this year. 

Currently, the City Council only approves City contracts that exceed $100,000.  I believe that the City Council should approve at a public hearing all expenditures over $25,000. 

The current limit on approval of contracts over $100,000 was passed by the City Council in 2000.  At the time, the reason given for raising the amount was to streamline the purchasing process, reduce bureaucracy and delays, and increase efficiency.

While I agree that all of those reasons are admirable, I also believe that such goals should not come at the price of reducing transparency in the process of City spending and accountability to the taxpayers.

I believe it is especially important to be accountable to the public in light of continuing budget shortfalls in our General Fund, including a $7.8 million deficit this coming fiscal year.  To put this in perspective, in fiscal year 2009-2010, there was $9 million worth of items that were NOT subject to approval before the City Council at a public hearing.

Our City Staff does an admirable and ethical job in spending money to ensure our City services remain top-notch, and it is true that the City Council currently receives quarterly reports on City spending for all items between $25,000 and $100,000.  However, this is a passive review, in that items are only brought before a public hearing if requested by a council member.   I firmly believe there is no substitute for full public transparency. 

For that reason, on Monday I will propose that the quarterly reports be changed to monthly reports, and that those monthly reports be placed on the City Council's consent calendar each month.  This will ensure that the public has access to those reports as part of the public record.  It will also require an affirmative vote of confidence by the City Council on a monthly basis, as opposed to the current passive approval through quarterly Council review.

It is important for Cities to be completely open with their expenditures, and I am confident that Monday's study session will continue the City of San Mateo on track they have admirably been on throughout their history. 

Please contact me if you have any comments or suggestions on this important issue.

To view Monday's reports on this item, click HERE

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