In the 2009-2010 budget process, the City staff and City Council colluded to try to sneak a new drainage fee past the public (multiple bloggers, July 2009)
Likely False – see discussion
At the end of the 2009-2010 budget process in July 2009, City staff briefed the City Council on a potential new fee to be imposed on City residents. This fee would be to pay for government required improvements to Richardson's drainage system, both the curb and gutter portion and the "creeks" (in Richardson, the creeks are part of the "storm sewer system", i.e., where rainwater is directed).
This item was discussed late Wednesday evening by the City Council, that is, on the third night of budget workshops (Monday through Thursday were reserved, but Thursday was not needed).
In the following days, a great deal of dust was kicked up by bloggers and letter writers who said that they were horrified that the issue of a new drainage fee was discussed at the end of the final day of budget workshops. Phrases like "sleight of hand", "shell game", "collusion", and "dishonorable behavior" were been bandied about by individuals who clearly believed that the City staff deliberately placed the item late at night to sneak the item past an unsuspecting public. As one blogger said, "No wonder the topic was saved for the last item on a long night's budget session agenda."
Budget Workshop Agendas
Budget workshops are not done in the same format as ordinary weekly City Council worksessions. While this year's budget (2009-2010) discussions took three evenings (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), they were, in fact, scheduled for as many as four days (Monday through Thursday), as they are every year. That is, the City staff and the City Council have a huge amount of ground to cover, and they allocate four days to do it. So they start on Monday and see how far they get. Then they resume on Tuesday and see how far they get. Then they resume on Wednesday and see how far they get. Then, if need be, they resume on Thursday, and do their best to finish before the 4th evening is done.
This is the way is has been for years with the budget review process; when Monday evening starts, there is no telling on what item will be the last one on Monday, which item will be the last one on Tuesday, and so on. It just starts, and they see how it goes, because there is no way of knowing how much discussion with the Council members will ensue on each item.
Thus, the presumption that the Mayor and the City Manager "colluded" for the drainage fee item to be last item late on Wednesday evening is not valid on its face. When they started Monday, they had no way of knowing if this item would be the first item on Wednesday, the last item on Wednesday, or perhaps an item sometime on Thursday. To assume that because it was the last item, that the powers-that-be meant for it to be late in the evening, would be the same as assuming that because a public hearing at a Council meeting began at 10 p.m. rather than 8 p.m. that this was the result of a conspiracy, rather than understanding that the previous public hearing just ran long.
Proposed Drainage Fee Not Part of the 2009-2010 Budget
Some bloggers and letter writers did not understand why the drainage fee was not presented as part of the budget. The answer is simple - as Deputy City Manager Dan Johnson made very clear during the budget process (as reported by Ian McCann of The Dallas Morning News), the City staff wasn’t even sure that the Council still wanted to pursue a Municipal Drainage Utility (the formal definition by State law that enables the specific drainage fee - please see “Texas Local Government Code, Title 13. Water and Utilities, Subtitle A. Municipal Water and Utilities, Chapter 552. Municipal Utilities, Subchapter C. Municipal Drainage Utility Systems”). And even if the Council still wanted to look at the new fee, then there were still a number of things that would have to be addressed before the Utility and its fee could be implemented. In short, the 2009-2010 budget would have to be approved before the drainage fee could be approved, no matter how the Council felt about it.
There are a number of Funds in the Richardson City Budget, funds that have to be approved as part of the regular annual budget. But the City’s fiscal year begins on October 1st, so the budget must be approved prior to October 1st (in 2008, for example, it was approved at the September 8, 2008 meeting).
But Deputy City Manager Dan Johnson stated during the budget hearings that the public hearings required by State law on the proposed Municipal Drainage Utility could not even begin until at least October (see the link as well as the print edition of The Dallas Morning News, July 31 2009, page B-3). Therefore, the possible drainage fee could not be part of the regular City budget for 2009-2010; even if it is added later during the fiscal year, the Council would have to have already approved the 2009-2010 budget before public hearings on the new fee could even begin.
It was also reasonable that the potential new drainage fee would be discussed last rather than first in terms of the budget. After all, at the point that the staff brought the item up, they didn’t even know if the Council - three members of which (43%) were brand new to the Council in 2009 - would even want to pursue this fee. And certainly the public hearing(s) that were to be held in October could have changed whether it would be approved or how it would get implemented.
It makes sense that the mandatory portions of the budget be discussed first, with optional features of the budge to follow.
Why would the Council and Staff try to hide the fee by discussing it late at night when it had already been discussed 8 times before?
• In the late summer of 2007 as part of the 2007-2008 budget process, the possibility of a drainage fee was mentioned in the City document entitled "Overview of the City of Richardson’s Fiscal Year 2007-2008 Budget".
• In February 2008, the Council was briefed on pending Richardson requirements and upcoming deadlines under the Texas Pollution Discharge Elimination System regulations, which is the main cause for discussion on the drainage fee.
• On July 14, 2008, the drainage fee itself was the subject of a briefing at the City Council Workshop.
• On August 8, 2008, a document entitled "2008-2009 Budget Overview" was created as part of the 2008-2009 budget process, and the drainage fee was mentioned.
• In the October 2008 edition of Richardson Today (yes, the newsletter mailed to all Richardson residents), the drainage fee was mentioned in the article describing the overview of the 2008-2009 budget.
• On November 3, 2008, the Council was updated again on the drainage fee at the City Council Workshop.
• On November 18, 2008, the City Council and City staff discussed the drainage fee with all the presidents of the City’s homeowners associations at the monthly City Council/Homeowner Presidents Meeting.
• On July 6, 2009, in the review of the "near term action items" derived from the goals setting process that had taken place over the last two months, in a City Council Workshop, the Council explicitly set the review of the drainage fee as an action item.
• And finally on July 22, 2009, during the City Council Budget Workshop, the City Council was briefed again on the drainage fee, for the third time in two years.
In short, the City has talked repeatedly about the proposed drainage fee for at least two years, so it would seem strange to imagine that they would try to hide it now by talking about it late at night.
The facts are these:
- City Council budget workshops are not tightly scheduled – for example, at the beginning of the process, neither the City staff nor the Council know how many days they will need (in recent years, it has been 3 or 4).
- For the reasons listed above, the drainage fee could not be part of the original 2009-2010 budget.
- It doesn’t make sense to discuss the optional portions of the budget before the mandatory portions of the budget, so, yes, the drainage fee was discussed at the end of the budget workshop.
- But the timing of the discussion (late Wednesday evening) was not a deliberate choice but the result of a series of unpredictable events, i.e., not knowing how long all the previous budget discussions would take.
The implication that the City staff put this on as the last agenda item on a late night session to somehow sneak something past the citizens of Richardson is very unlikely for another reason: this was at least the NINTH time in 2 years that the possible drainage fee had been mentioned in official City communications and meetings – there would have been no point in trying to conceal information about it now.
The basis of this rumor is the belief that
- since the drainage fee was a new fee and
- since it was discussed late at night,
- therefore, the City staff and City Council must have deliberately chosen to discuss this fee late at night in order to avoid public scrutiny.
No evidence has been offered (eyewitness statements, documents, etc.) to validate this leap in logic, while there is plenty of direct and indirect evidence as noted above that the timing of the discussion of the drainage fee was determined by a number of unpredictable factors, not through the "collusion" of the staff and Council.
Rumorcheck.org cannot read minds any better than bloggers can, so while Rumorcheck.org can't produce definitive evidence that the rumor is false, no one has produced any evidence at all that the rumor is true. So we are classifying this rumor as "Likely False".
William J. 'Bill' McCalpin