“Boy what a process. Are we tired of this yet?” Frustration boiled over once again at the Ashland City Council meeting on Tuesday as Councilor Rich Rosenthal expressed frustration about the city’s grant funding.
It comes in the wake of a contentious meeting last month when councilors drastically cut funding to the Options for Housing Residents of Ashland which assists the city’s most marginalized populations in finding jobs, housing and resources. The Housing and Human Services Commission recommended the local nonprofit be granted $40,000, but the council instead dropped it to $4,000.
Since that time Councilor Stefani Seffinger made a motion to re-fund OHRA up to $25,000 citing the work they do in the community and indicating the drastic cut would not be effective or wise.
Councilors agreed in a split vote and Tuesday’s meeting was intended to finalize the numbers. Instead it boiled over to a discussion about process. “We’ve got to think this through. This is not the way this type of business should be done-ever,” said Rosenthal as a motion was on the floor to grant the funding as promised and move some dollars out of other grants to make up the difference. “I’m going to vote against the motion. We’ve got to fix the process and do a better job on this. I’ve been an elected volunteer for 15 years. This is one of the most embarrassing things I’ve been through.”
Ultimately the council did vote to restore the funding at the $25,000 level and trim grants to others. Rosenthal and Councilor Mike Morris voted against.
Councilors also received the seventh quarter financial report on the city's biennial budget for 2015-2017 from newly hired Finance Director Mark Welch. While the report was brief, Welch was asked by councilors about his willingness to release reports to the general public regarding pay structure and overtime.
The discussion comes after Interim Finance Director Bev Adams told the Citizens Budget Committee they had no reason to request those records at the first budget meeting on Thursday, May 11.
“Finally there’s the question of overtime,’ said Councilor Dennis Slattery. “This is the question that was thrown out there that created something of a hubbub.” Slattery directed Welch to have the report ready for the next meeting.
Councilor Seffinger asked Welch to break out how much overtime was required due to staff shortages or safety issues and she wanted to know how it’s budgeted. “Is overtime built in or not? That’s a question I’d like answered.”
When asked if citizens have the right to request documents in the public record, Welch answered both yes and no.
“I believe in transparency. If you request this information, why do you want it? Is there an end goal you are trying to get to? Is there going to be a lot of staff time taken to get it? I would ask, why do you want it?”
Councilor Morris added that there might be a difference if one person is asking as opposed to a group like the Citizens Budget Committee and Mayor John Stromberg indicated there may be federal regulations about releasing contract information during union negotiations.
Public records law in Oregon makes no distinctions as to who may request a record or requirement they say why they want it.
The language of the law, ORS 192.440, is specifically interpreted by the Secretary of State, who is the custodian of records, to say: “Every person has a right to inspect any public record of a public body in this state.”
The pay of public employees and overtime records are a public record and public entities are directed to provide the records in a reasonable amount of time. Should an individual or group be denied access to a public record, an appeals process allows the District Attorney to review any denial of records release.
The Citizens Budget Committeeasked for pay scales and overtime records as budgeted.
Welch indicated that he is now having department heads break out the records by division.
The next meeting of the Citizens Budget Committee will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 25, in the City Council Chambers, 1175 East Main St., Ashland.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.