Saturday, August 05, 2006

Williams Trounced Attempting To Wrest Control of $1.2 Million

Council Retains Authority

By Phyllis Schaltenbrand

An attempt by Allan Williams to wrest control of $1.2 million in special funds from the City Council was trounced at a recent City Council meeting.

New construction at Ameristar Casino has resulted in the City receiving approximately $1.2 million in one-time construction permit fees. Since this money had not been budgeted it amounts to a windfall for the City.

After lengthy discussions, Councilman Rory Riddler, Ward 1 suggested to the Council the money be split 11 ways with each of the ten Councilmen and the Mayor each receiving $110,000 that could be spent on any project they wanted as long as it was for the good of the City. The Mayor was given a share in hope that she would not veto the bill. The Council and Mayor would be able to spend the money on important issues or items for their individual wards or the City as long as it is for the good of the City and normal procedures were followed.

In an apparent attempt to wrest the control of the funds from the Councilmen and the Mayor, Williams took it upon himself to write parameters for the spending of the funds They included: All expenditures shall be transferred from Council directives to the appropriate line item in the budget with the proper project code according to the nature and purpose of the expenditure. All expenditures shall be approved by a majority of the whole Council and Mayor according to the Charter. No money shall be expended for retroactive expenditures.

Councilman Riddler pointed out that this could be problematic. It would be turning the money over to Williams’ control. Once the money is placed in the line items the Council has no control over it and the Mayor or Williams or Department Heads can move the money around and use it for expenditures other than those selected by the individual Councilmen.

Councilman Brown said, “I agree with Mr. Riddler. I can tell you that when City staff has it in for you, you cannot get a project done. We approved Pearl Ridge back in October and there hasn’t been one shovel of dirt moved. Everything is still standing there just the way it was. Nothing gets done. In any other ward it would be done immediately. It just depends upon whom you are and what they want to do. We need to keep it where each Councilperson has their right. That means every single ward in the City will be receiving something. There are a lot of projects that can be done and have a good affect on our wards and to bring it back in and let staff start dictating and transferring your funds and doing whatever they want with it, spending money for useless things, raising electric boxes just so they could take more money out of it. It goes on and on with what they can do with the money so when the time comes there is no money in the budget to do it.”

Councilman Gieseke pointed out if Williams controlled the money and he did not want to sign a contract, he wouldn’t. Gieseke also asked City Attorney Mike Valenti to show him where in the Charter it allows discretionary spending at this level by the office of the Mayor. “I would like a legal opinion on where we are giving an elected official who has limited powers under our charter the opportunity to have that unilateral power to spend money,” Gieseke said.

Riddler made a motion to delete items three and four. During discussion of item six Councilman Brown disputed William’s reasoning on why that item was there. Brown said, “The real reason that’s in there is that they (the administration) has been draining the money out of the Pearl Ridge project and they want to make sure if it comes up short they can still hold it up by saying you can’t use the money on a retroactive project.”

These parameters directed by Williams were defeated by a unanimous vote of Councilmembers in attendance. Councilman Jerry Reese was the only one absent.