Friday, February 16, 2007

Neighborhood Councils Under Attack - Again - By Renegade City Agency!

First, read the above link.


So you can see how DONE - the agency that is supposed to empower neighborhood councils - is trying to cripple neighborhood councils.

And the whole purpose of neighborhood councils is to advise the city on issues which is why the city is required to consult with NC's prior to taking actions.

But yet DONE - more than any other agency - which should be consulting with NC's on any policy changes about NC's - not only refuses to consult with NC's prior to taking actions - but they even hide those policies from NC's until they are made public.

In addition, DONE has a history of repeatedly trying to force neighborhood councils to commit illegal actions, and has a history of violating the law itself. And the the recent controversial budget directives are only the latest illegal actions of DONE.

So on February 14th we received the following email:

A review by our City Attorney has determined that a provision of City Council File 02-0699 will require alignment with the Plan for a Citywide System of Neighborhood Councils. Due to this development, we have revised Information Bulletin Number 2007-05 Re: Standardized Budget Template and Minimum Funding Allocation Requirements. Please see the attached revised Information Bulletin and revised Sample Budget Template.

Translation - we got caught breaking the law - once again - and now we have to cover our asses. Then came the "changes":

A minimum of 25% of Neighborhood Council annual funding ($12,500 of each year's $50,000 allocation) must be spent on outreach efforts unless the Neighborhood Council elects to spend more than 75% of its year's allocation on neighborhood improvements projects.

OK - it is illegal for them to require that we spend 25% of our budget on Outreach - so DONE says we don't have to -- as long as we spend over 75% of our budget on improvement projects. This means DONE will not allow us to spend even one dollar on administrative costs. So if we buy even one ... paper clip... we would become criminals. Nothing like respecting the spirit of the law.

OK - 'change' number two:

It is strongly urged that a minimum of 25% of Neighborhood Council funds ($12,500 of each year’s $50,000 allocation) be spent on community improvement projects.

In other words, they admit they can't force us to spend 25% of our budget on improvement projects - but they are letting us know our lives will become a living hell if we don't. And if there is one thing Lisa Sarno and DONE are experts at - it is making the lives of Neighborhood Council members a living hell.

Lastly - the worst part - forcing us to decide a full year in advance how we are going to spend every single cent of our budgets - which makes it impossible for us to meet the changing needs of our neighborhoods, remains unchanged. Also unchanged is DONE's goal of making the accounting system a logistical nightmare that will make our lives... a living hell.

Your Neighborhood Council’s FY 07-08 budget will be your “roadmap” for the year ahead, so it must be detailed, thorough, and you need to adhere to it. The Controller’s audit noted that Neighborhood Council expenditures must directly correlate to budget line items. As demand warrants (city checks) are requested, the DW forms you submit will reference these budget line items.

There will be new accounting and budget codes established to track spending. During
the FY 2007-08 budget cycle, operational expenditures will be coded by “100 Series”
items, outreach expenditures by “200 Series” items, and community improvement
expenditures by “300 Series” items. This will simplify the tracking expenditures for all.

Neighborhood Councils, as well as expedite the quarterly audit process. By developing
your budget, you are clearly showing your stakeholders how the money will be spent.
Then, you follow through and spend the funds as described in your budget. Finally,
DONE staff will verify that you did spend the funds the way you voted to spend them...

And now comes the money shot.... the ultimate hypocrisy of DONE. DONE is demanding that we follow budgetary restrictions no other city agency follows while DONE itself not only refuses to follow its own budget, but even refuses to disclose how they are spending our money while their own projects - such as the April 21st Congress... are spiraling wild out of control.

And if that is not enough - they are now cooking the books to hide the truth.


Empowerment Report - DONE’s Creative Accounting

By Greg Nelson

Since 1776, governmental agencies have been producing reports for elected officials that didn’t quite contain all the important information, overlooked a few options, or fudged the facts just a tad.

In some respects, it’s an art form. But it can also take a nation into war.

As reported in CityWatch, the upcoming Congress of Neighborhoods was first estimated to cost three times that of past Congress events. That fact alone was alarming, but the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners rubber-stamped the contract with the hotel after limited discussion.

No one even thought it was important to ask from where the money was going to come.

The truth is that DONE didn’t have a clue how they will pay for the event. As tight as its budget is, the only choice seems to be that services to the Neighborhood Councils would have to be cut. One target that has been discussed at DONE is the money spent by DONE to notify stakeholders about each upcoming Neighborhood Council election.

In preparation for this issue being discussed by the City Council’s Education and Neighborhoods Committee, DONE revised the numbers that it gave to the commissioners in an attempt to compare the costs of past events to this year’s congress, whose price tag skyrocketed to $162,000, or five times the cost of recent events.

Amazingly, the new report showed that the costs of past Congresses were much higher than previously reported. It was designed to create the false impression that the new “Rolls Royce” version of the Congress wasn’t really all that more expensive.

But a simple glance at the chart provided to the City Council showed that what DONE had done was to include, as part of the total costs, the value of all the fees that had been waived. So that’s how an event at the Convention Center that had a reported cost of $31,000 on the first report became $51,000 on the second report.

If you wondered what happened to Enron “book cookers” who didn’t go to prison, I think we found that answer.

When this issue is finally heard by the Education and Neighborhoods Committee, it would be refreshing if DONE apologized for the botched deception, and produced a third report that simply reported the facts.

We should never fear the truth.

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