City Manager: “We Were Ambushed”

City Manager: “We Were Ambushed”

The Citizens for Responsible Spending (CRS) and members of the Budget Hawks made several presentations at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting. The groups are asking the City Commission to roll back the 13% increase in property taxes that was adopted last year.

The presentations addressed the rosy outlook presented by City staff weeks earlier at a budget workshop and raised questions about information provided to City Commissioners.

After the presentations City Manager Rick Fernandez told City Commissioners, “We were ambushed.”

Mr. Fernandez explained to Commissioners that the groups had never talked to him about this new information despite his willingness to meet with anyone at anytime.

The presentation to the City Commissioners started with former Mayor Penny Herman who said “after reviewing documents provided during the last budget presentation by City staff, we are concerned that the information provided to you is not consistent with an independent review of some of the comparisons presented.”

She was followed by Dr. Shawn Kantor who is the L. Charles Hilton, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Economic Prosperity and Individual Opportunity at FSU and a prize winning author.

Dr. Kantor presented two charts. The first chart showed per capita spending since 2000. He said General Fund per capita spending had began increasing in 2010 and has reached a level not seen since the real estate boom in 2005. This contradicted the claim by City staff that General Fund spending was tracking population growth.KANT1

The second chart compared growth in the General Fund with growth in other measures of the local economy. The chart showed the City Commissioners that the rate of growth in the General Fund since 2010 has surpassed growth in jobs, annual wages and property values.KANT2

Dr. Kantor was followed by two members of the Budget Hawks.

One, Mr. Brent Pichard, challenged the City staff’s presentation during the last budget workshop that indicated the staff was responsible for a 30% decline in electric rates over the last eight years.

Mr. Pichard presented documents to the City Commissioners which showed that the price for natural gas has declined significantly over the last eight years and that the decline was not the result of any City government action.

Rather, he said, base rates – which is controlled by the City – has increased approximately 56% since 2008.

Mr. Fernandez’s comments were followed by a spirited defense of City staff by City Commissioner Curtis Richardson and Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Commissioners Scott Maddox, Gil Ziffer, and Nancy Miller did not offer any comments.

37 Responses to "City Manager: “We Were Ambushed”"

  1. The second Budget Hawk speaker was John Lester. His analysis of the “Peer City” comparisons was devastating to the city’s claims. His observation that concerned citizens must fight city hall with “three minute snippets” was also powerful. John brings a new and very keen mind to the effort.
    An aroused and highly informed citizenry is just what the doctor ordered for the ills at
    city hall.

  2. if Pingree and Fernandez are related, even by marriage, they both should resign. No advertisement of $140k job in a town with 1000+ urban planners? Come on !

  3. Seems like he could have said “thanks for your feedback, we will consider it”, instead of getting defensive. They work for us.

  4. We are accepting new members in Budget Hawks for those who have a special desire to help keep an eye on local government spending.

    Receive your wings now. We need raptors who are want to help make local government spend our hard earned tax dollars efficiently as possible.

    Our goal is to be civil and respectful, but firm in our opposition to wasteful and excessive spending. If you just want to be an honorary Hawk, sign up for our email list.

    Email Russell Price at rprice@pricecommercial today.

  5. Is the first chart showing the per capita spending since 2000 adjusted for inflation? Could the second chart show what growth there is in annual wages excluding the State of Florida employment base? What did the second member of he Budget Hawks present?
    I’m all on board with keeping these issues front and center, and one would hope that there will be new monthly performance reports and metrics coming out of the City Manager’s office as a result.

    1. The City mangers office has been distorting the truth for years. They will spin this. News flash, golf fund has never broken even. They are hiding expenses in the general fund, electric fund and fleet fund to name a few. That means your utility bill is paying for golf at hilliman. You have to get the detail budget reports, which are hard to get. Not the budget book they publish.

      1. Who Guards the Guards – you are very correct!!! It’s other budgets that are making Hilaman and now Star Metro look so good. All with the City Manager’s urging and his “good ol boys” doing the dirty work.

  6. Ambushed? Oh, okay. Didn’t you hire your Brother-in-Law Ben Pingree as Director of Planning, Land Management, and Community Enhancement (PLACE)? A joint County / City department, PLACE coordinates the work of Blueprint 2000 and the Planning Department.

    That hire sounds like an ambush.

  7. Mr. Osborne,

    You have stated what many of us “locals” have believed for years….that there is a disconnect between constituents and their representatives. I’m not sure term limits are what is needed (low hanging fruit being the easiest to pick and all). Rather, I believe that if we vote for new blood instead of simply checking the box for the incumbents because we know their names…actually vote people into these positions that will truly represent what is best for the people they represent instead of their own best interests (or the interests of their friends and/or financiers) we will do much better in future endeavors. I believe the “good old boy” network set in place many years ago continues to create an obvious disconnect between our commissioners (both, city and county) and those constituents that continue to vote them into office which is propagating the issue/s without ever correcting them.

  8. What was the end result? Did they say they would consider the “new information” presented to them and set a date to discuss again? Was a motion made to roll back the taxes?

    1. Sadly, April, no. Commissioners Maddox, Miller, and Ziffer sat stone silent. Commissioner Richardson and Mayor Gillum had the audacity to defend the City Manager and staff. Problems in the City are not the problem, denial of the problems is and until voters find Commissioners willing to hold elected leaders responsible for such blatant falsehoods being presented we will continue to sit stagnant at best. Remember, 500 fewer businesses than five years ago. Where’s the Greater Tallahassee Chamber in all of this? Oh, that’s right – it receives six figure funding from the City. NEBA needs to step up and take the place of the Chamber as an advocate for local small business.

      1. Thank you Preston. I’m still stunned by the simplicity of inaction after being confronted. Citizens who have done their research thoroughly present their case to roll back the tax increase, yet no one takes it to a vote? No one even called for a vote? Just a bunch of babble and self defense talk? No one even said, “These are very good points that need to be considered. Let’s continue to look at this, and if you are correct, then the tax roll back is certainly appropriate. Our city managers door is open, the staff, we want to do the right thing.” That’s the very LEAST they could have done. I personally believe the Budget Hawks are absolutely correct. Thanks to the Budget Hawks, Russell Price, Brent Pichard, Preston and others for your hard work and perseverance in exposing the true numbers. There is certainly no ambush. Why in the world our city manager & elected officials jump to assume intelligent citizens who have researched and researched are wrong – and city staff cannot be, my mind is still reeling from this report.

  9. Article Says: “He (Dr. Kantor) said General Fund per capita spending had began increasing in 2010 and has reached a level not seen since the real estate boom in 2005.”

    This is too easy. Gillum, Marks, and City Manager Thompson were in the same mode as their ‘president’ which was the one that believes government is to spend and spend and thus believe the economy is being stimulated. ‘Stimulate the economy’ are the exact words I heard Thompson speak at a city commission meeting.

  10. It is hard to deny the truth. Is the public listening? Will we finally elect a commissioner who will look out for our interest!

  11. There was a time when a city manager who was lied to by staff would have called the staff together after discovery and told them that a letter of reprimand is going into the personnel files of each one of them and if the manager every catches them presenting a false briefing and recommendation to him again, each one will be fired.

    That would stop this type of government behavior in a heartbeat and set a good example of leadership responsibility for all managers to follow.

  12. That, Preston is an example of why I cancelled my subscription to the Tallahassee Demagogue. If they go the way of the dinosaur, they have only themselves to blame.

    1. Excellent, wise decision.
      In my life, any business whose views are diametrically opposed to mine gets none of my hard-earned dollars. None.
      And the local newsletter tops that list.
      I urge all others reading here that still have subscriptions to that rag (yes, all three of you) to cancel ASAP. Your money could be better spent, than to be indirectly transferred into the pockets of corporate execs in McLean, VA.

  13. Fernandez defiantly tells the “other” paper (which, for some reason chose NOT to publish the charts) “I’ll challenge anyone to unprove our data.” Oh, my…a team of people and a renowned expert just did and he refuses to admit. The senior staff is either incompetent or dishonest.

  14. Kudos to Penny Herman, Brent Pichard and Dr. Kantor! The taxpaying citizens of Tallahassee are the ones who have been ambushed! TERM LIMITS!

  15. With so many state institutions including two universities I understand why we have the highest utility rates in the state. The state of Florida pays the largest share of utility bills in our city and we can use that to pay for other services. So we should get tax breaks else where to offset our high utility bills. Raising property rates is not the way to go.

  16. Ambushed? Poor babies. They continually ambush the citizens with unpleasant surprises. Turnabout is fair play. Too bad they’ll go ahead and do just what they want to do, just as they always have.

  17. The city now has a duty to have a public presentation addressing the allegations of misinformation. Put the facts on which they relied, out in the public domain for citizen review and evaluation. Explain their process and conclusions. The city’s failure to be more inclusive in the budget preparation process has created suspicion and these allegations, which the city must now refute, or admit they cooked the facts. A failure to respond to the citizens concerns is tantamount to an admission of error. I hope the city staff will show the proper respect to our citizens and present their case.

    1. I absolutely agree. Term limits is the way the citizens remind elected officials who is in charge. A charter amendment can get it done. Limit city commissioners and the mayor to one four year term, deny them access to city pension or benefits, but increase their salary to 50K, require all city budget meetings, employment hires and contract reviews be held in the sunshine for public involvement.

  18. I would say to Mr. Fernandez that the citizens of the city are under NO obligation to filter their comments to the city commission through his office. Contrary to any opinion he may have, he works for the citizens, not the other way around. If he would insist on due diligence from his staff instead of trying to support a predetermined position, he would not be caught with his fly open.

  19. It has been my observation watching City Commissioners that after they spend one term in office, they more identify with Staff than their constituents. It is like they come down with a form of Stockholm Syndrome where they have feelings of trust and affection for Staff and distrust and disdain for the taxpaying citizens. It has been obvious that is the case in this budget and tax debate where Commissioners side with Staff even when faced with the facts. It is like they can not help themselves. I do not think there is any cure for this affliction but to be voted out of office.

    I must say that I think it is a good argument for term limits.
    P.S. I am not a psychologist, but I once spent a night in a Holiday Inn Express.

    1. Well said! I was wondering how the Government could be ambushed by the information they chose to present. Perhaps our Honorable Manager didn’t actually intend to imply what the word “ambush,” even in it’s transitive verb form, actually means.

  20. So. Given that staff now has info it did not have…..but could have had…will the recommendation to elected officials be to roll back the increase?

    Or dig in?

  21. Ambushed because he couldn’t prevent adverse positions and fact-based rebuttals of city staff? And of course Gilligan and Richardson defended staff. Gillium probably told them to lie to the public.

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