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Time for NC Budget Advocates to Challenge the Mayor

PERSPECTIVE - My issues with the Mayor’s Budget Survey are not new.

Since the mayor rolled out the first one several years ago, it has become increasingly apparent that the survey was designed purely as a political tool and not a reform measure designed to introduce accountability.
(Editor’s Note: Paul Hatfield suggested last CityWatch that LA’s Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates were allowing themselves to be used by the Mayor. Read NCBA Chair Jay Handal’s response to the Hatfield column here.)

I recall a budget day speech by the mayor a few years ago. He used all of his time to credit the city’s declining crime rate to the budget survey.  He stated the improvement was achieved because the responders ranked public safety as their number one priority, giving him the green light to keep the LAPD near the 10,000 officer level. He said nothing about the city’s structural deficit nor even hint at a plan to resolve it.

That’s typical of Villaraigosa’s cafeteria style management – pick the popular issues and ignore the difficult ones.  And besides, was a survey really necessary to determine that residents prefer public safety over all else?

The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates have played an increasingly important role in the survey over the years.  The members are extremely competent stakeholders who have unselfishly devoted free time to analyzing the budget, learning about city services and summarizing the survey results.

But what is there to show besides the sweat and blood of their efforts? Has anything changed in how the city confronts its financial difficulties?  Has a truly balanced budget ever been produced? Is there a plan to produce a sustainable, structural budget in the future?

I think all of you know the answers. Deep down inside, our officials also know, but they are in denial for the sake of maintaining their bases of political support.

Yet year after year, the budget survey has been waved in our faces as if it is a civic responsibility to respond. To a degree, it is a responsibility. However, the mayor and City Council have not exercised their civic responsibility to reform the budget process. To be frank, you do not need a survey to accomplish that; only sound management.

The city’s budget strategy has always been about deferring current costs to future periods and hoping for a revenue enhancing recovery.  That’s not really a strategy.  It is gambling. All the surveys in the world will not change that.

We are at a point where change will only occur by pushing back against Team Villaraigosa.

NCBA Co-Chair Jay Handal prefers collaboration even though it has produced no change in how the city manages its finances. If anything, the situation has deteriorated to the point where there is no less than $70,000,000 in deferred costs our next mayor will be forced to deal with in the first year of the new term alone.

The budget advocates have been more than fair to the mayor and have shown incredible patience with him. How many more budget surveys will it take before Handal directs the efforts of his group to openly challenge the mayor and publicly admonish him and the City Council for neglecting their fiduciary responsibilities?

Rather than focus on educating the public about the Mayor’s and City Council’s irresponsible financial management, Handal suggests we should all check the NCBA website for developments about the survey.  That’s nice, but really not necessary. It should be clear to anyone who follows the news that the city’s budget situation is becoming increasingly grave.

It would be nice if Handal would openly and assertively acknowledge the problems rather than play up the survey; perhaps send e-mail blasts to all NC members spelling out how bad things are and engage the media.  Even mayoral candidate Austin Beutner stated his concern over the public’s lack of information about the dire state of the city’s finances.

It is ironic that Handal’s only mass e-mail distribution about the budget (other than  perhaps meeting notices) was in response to my article.  Oh, he is good about sending mass e-mails – quite a few NC members receive messages from him promoting his restaurant (an excellent establishment from what I here). If only he can be a little more proactive about the city’s fiscal affairs.

Although I respect the time and commitment Handal has invested, if he is unwilling to use his position as a bully pulpit to inform the public about lack of accountability and transparency with respect to the budget, he should hand the reins to another member.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as Treasurer for the Neighborhood Council Valley Village.  He blogs at Village to Village, contributes to CityWatch and can be reached at: –cw

Tags: Paul Hatfield, Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, budget, city budget, Mayor’s Budget

Vol 10 Issue 21
Pub: Mar 13, 2012