Kids in the Hall

By Andy Balaskovitz

Checking in with the Financial Health Team; the ongoing Niowave saga; and Council disappointment in the mayor’s “economic mission” to Italy

Monday, Nov. 19 — It’s been seven weeks since former Mayor David Hollister dropped by City Hall to brief the Council on the city’s precarious financial situation. He was back tonight, as the head of the Mayor Virg Bernero-appointed Financial Health Team, to give an update.

Hollister, who is leading the 16-member team of experts from the public, private and education sectors, said the group has looked at Flint, Pontiac, Saginaw and Grand Rapids as snapshots for what’s happening elsewhere in the state.

For example, Pontiac is a community that’s gone from about 600 city employees to 59 who “mostly service contracts,” he said. The team studied an effort from last year to consolidate the governments of Grand Rapids and Kent County, which ultimately failed. Flint is looking to the Legislature for the ability to raise the city’s income tax rate.

“We continue to look at what’s going on across Michigan and across the country,” Hollister said.

The city is facing an $11 million budget deficit heading into the fiscal year. Hollister said a few residents at a public meeting two weeks ago “had some interesting suggestions” for short-term budget fixes, such as spreading out trash collection, moving to multi-year budgets, and consolidating the functions of the city and county clerks.

The Financial Health Team is also broken down into three committees that will make short-term budget recommendations, long-term budget recommendations and ways to share services through regional consolidation. Michigan State University professor Eric Scorsone is researching the impact increasing revenue has on residents staying in cities, Hollister said.

The Financial Health Team will prepare a series of recommendations for the Bernero administration by February or March, prior to the mayor’s formal budget recommendation to the Council.

In other news, a plan for dealing with the Niowave pole barn in the Walnut Neighborhood has surfaced, according to two members of the neighborhood organization who spoke during public comment tonight. However, the neighbors aren’t entirely happy.

Mary Elaine Kiener, a Seymour Avenue resident, said while she is pleased about the landscaping improvements Niowave officials showed her and two other neighbors on Friday, “Our once cordial relationship with Niowave has significantly deteriorated.” Conversations between the company and neighbors “are at an all-time low,” she added.

The Council was scheduled to set a public hearing tonight on a draft ordinance that would deal with construction plans on property where a special land use permit was already approved, which was the case when Niowave constructed its 14,000-square-foot pole barn. The item was tabled after At-Large Councilman Derrick Quinney indicated there’s more work to be done on the ordinance language in committee.

Pick up Wednesday’s City Pulse to read more on this issue.

Even though he’s out of the country, Mayor Bernero took some heat from a few Council members tonight for leaving last week on an “economic mission” (as his Chief of Staff Randy Hannan calls it) in Italy. Mainly, though, they were upset because he apparently didn’t tell any of them about it.

At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood called it a “blatant disregard for the (City) Charter and this Council” that the administration didn’t tell Council members he was leaving. “It’s another indication of thumbing your nose at Council,” she said.

First Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington said it was a charter violation for Bernero to leave without delegating certain responsibilities to Council President Brian Jeffries, but City Attorney Brig Smith said that wasn’t the case — “Day-to-day business goes to the executive assistant,” or Hannan.

“If it’s not a blatant charter violation, it certainly is a slap in the face,” Washington responded.

Hannan said the administration follows the charter provision when communication with the mayor is "severely constrained" when traveling and that since he's left for Italy, Bernero is "constantly in touch." 

File this one in the certain-Council-members-angered-about-learning-of-administration-news-through-the-media folder.