Tuesday, September 20, 2011

City Officials Must Uphold Fiscal Accountability

The City Council's investigation into the WBLS affair is taking place coincidentally with a larger examination by Union County authorities into a major public event known as MusicFest and may share some common elements.

The governing body is trying to get to the bottom of how a "Town Meeting" on gang violence was organized and funded. It was broadcast over WBLS, a radio station that received $20,000 in city funds for advertising and the event itself. In the overall scheme of things, $20,000 is not a lot of money, but it was paid through the Division of Recreation and taken from unrelated budgetary sources including an Information Technology line for "hardware and software maintenance."

The discussion of the Aug. 1, 2010 event has gone on for a year without any light being shed on how it came about. Officials defending it claim the cost was offset by a $15,000 donation, while not publicly identifying the donor.

The net impression is one of arrangements being made and money spent without the fiscal controls required for municipal government, a notion deepened by the reluctance of officials to explain the circumstances. Hence the unique use of the governing body's subpoena powers, as outlined in the City Charter. Employees will be summoned to Wednesday's meeting to be questioned by the council and action may be taken.

In the MusicFest situation, the Union County Prosecutor's Office investigated the handling of funds for the 2010 event and found errors, resulting in what The County Watchers group called "a scathing report." The group shines a light on dubious doings at the county level and closely monitors how public money is spent.

Plainfield has no similarly intense fiscal watchdog group and for three years did not even have a chief finance officer, the state-required monitor of how municipal money is spent. The city also had a high turnover at the top of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services, one of three departments required by the city's special charter.

Actually, the charter calls for Administration and Finance, Public Works and Public Affairs and Safety as the three departments. Administration and Finance was repurposed during the Fury administration to include the other divisions, with the result in recent years that the finance director ends up getting embroiled in tiffs at the Senior Center or other distractions. At times, the city administrator has had to serve in addition as acting department head, further watering down oversight with side issues such as spats over use of city ball fields.

All this adds up to a weakening of the normal safeguards on fiscal matters.

It remains to be seen what comes out of the council investigation, but at the minimum one hopes it will set a tone of higher regard for accountability in municipal spending. The city has had a chief finance officer since January and also has a permanent AFH&SS director. Although there is no permanent city administrator, the acting city administrator has the experience needed to observe city operations and give sound advice on proper fiscal management going forward.

Employees who may have taken advantage of lax controls need to understand that the party's over. The governing body is serious about accounting for every dollar of public money. Instead of being defensive, the administration should also uphold accountability, at every level.



  1. While Councilman Reid and Rivers, I am sure will ask what the big deal is, I would like to ask them if it is OK if we take the money slotted for better roads in the 1&4 Wards and put it towards the mayor's campaign instead?

  2. Waste of Money List in Plainfield

    1. Fountain in Library Park

  3. The fountain could be nice...if it was on, cleaned and maintained...BUT..this is Plainfield...lets give a gang members a job instead of maintaining the assets of the community..

  4. Let's have the people of Plainfield either not vote, or vote for someone because they like them, not because they are qualified.

    This city seems to be bent on keeping itself in shambles, because of personal interests. Friends need to keep their jobs, no matter how poorly they do it (Recreation, mayor, as well as others come to mind).

    Let's not aspire to having good people work for us (kick out Bibi - she is too good), and certainly, let's not talk up how wonderful this city is (crime and gangs are rife in Plainfield - thank you mayor).

    People, what is wrong with you!