Common Sense / Opinion
A continuing series
Using Bad Technology To Excuse Bad Management
(April 3, 2012) -- Later today (April 3), the City Council will discuss an audit by City Auditor Laura Doud's office on the city's Parking Citations Collection process. City Auditor Doud and Mayor Foster unveiled the audit at a news conference last week (which LBReport.com presented in its entirety with video and access to the audit here).
It merits taxpayers' attention when one hears the City had $17.6 million in uncollected delinquent fines during the past three years...and that's in addition to over $11 million relating to vehicles with five or more unpaid parking tickets that Ms. Doud's office "discovered" in 2008 (covered period from Jan. 1, 2003-Dec. 31, 2007).
OK, let me get this straight. In 2000 under Mayor OíNeillís stewardship the City purchased what I must presume was a state of the art computer software system to better manage, track and maximize parking ticket fine collections.
In 2008 with Mayor Foster and Budget Committee Chair DeLong at the helm it was "discovered" that the city had over $11 million in uncollected fines (from vehicles with 5 or more unpaid tickets).
And now in 2012 also under the Foster and DeLong administration, a "new" Audit "discovers" the City had, once again, failed to collect $17.6 Million in outstanding citations that are three years old or less.
And the reason for this ongoing problem is "because we are using an outdated system that has hampered out ability to manage and collect outstanding citations."
Sorry, after watching the press conference and reading the Audit Report, I am not buying what is in my opinion another of Mayor Fosterís preemptive spins.
Was this a technology problem or an all too common lack of sound policy and management that this Mayor and Council seem to exhibit in abundance? So I decided to do a little checking.
I wanted to know what Mayor's and Councils been doing to improve what is the General Fund's sixth largest source of revenue between 2000 and 2012. Given that Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal recently opined that now is not the time to elect "amateurs" to the City Council, I was wondering how the Mayor and Council veterans have performed over the past five years.
I had anticipated some positive information as the 2003 Financial Policy Statement approved by the Council states in Paragraph 6A "that staff provide monthly reports that evaluate financial performance" and in Paragraph 6B "the Council must be advised of 'troubling'..financial information." Given that we have been in fiscal strife since 2002, did the Mayor and Council enforce this policy? Sadly, I have no evidence to indicate a report on declining fine collections and increase in delinquent fines showed up in budgets or public reports.
Is there anything in Mayor Fosterís recommendations for the 2007 budget about improving parking fine collections? Nope, not a word...although he did pat himself and the Council on the back for what he called "unprecedented discipline" (read service cuts) in coming up with a structurally balanced budget.
Is there anything in the Mayor Foster's 2008 Budget that indicates concern about the decrease in fine revenue or the growing delinquent fine collections? Nope
Did we see a strategy to increase the collection of parking fines in the May 12, 2009 report for the 2010 City Council Budget Preview Hearings? Nope, not a word about the decrease in collections or the increase in delinquent and uncollected fines.
Given I saw nothing in prior years, I opened the 2010 Budget with little hope of finding anything. But I did find something: the Financial Services Budget touts a projected increase in collections of a whopping $65,000 due to "increased collection efforts." Not a word about understaffing or bad technology.
But finally I did find something about declining parking fine collections in the 2010 Mid Year Budget Report dated June 22, 2010. That report indicates a decline in collections due to the recession and "increased number of rain events, the timing of holidays." Not one word about bad technology or staffing issues.
Disappointed in what I had found at this point I looked with anticipation at Mayor Foster's 2011 Budget Recommendations. I was guardedly optimistic that I might find something to back up previous Foster/DeLong statements that they and others were exhibiting "unprecedented discipline" and exercising diligence in not "kicking the can down the road" in order to reverse or slow our decade long slide into fiscal irresponsibility. So what did Foster say about how we might reverse the $2.72 Million decline in annual parking citation fine revenue since 2009 (A sum that would pay for 23 police officers) or the $17.6 million in delinquent and uncollected fines? Not a word.
So, what does all this mean? In my opinion, it means that our veteran leaders and in-house Business Gurus are not doing their jobs. Mayor Foster, his Budget Oversight Committee chair DeLong and the City Council failed to advance necessary policy directives and exhibit responsible oversight over city management that ultimately led to a lack of attention to a very large source of General Fund revenue.
Responsible leadership doesn't wait eight years to find out the City has an $11 million problem and then wait another three years to find out you have an additional $17.6 million problem. Doesnít anyone reconcile this department at the end of every year?
It is interesting that Mayor Foster is now trying to blame this issue on deficiencies with the technology used to collect parking tickets and the lack of adequate personnel to manage the system. Folks, this is nothing but political
This isn't a technology problem. It's a management problem. The problem was identified in 2008 and presumably the fix of the problem was identified or at least acknowledged. So why wasnít the problem fixed?
Clearly, the Performance Budgeting, Optimization Programs and now the absurdly touted Proportional Budgeting have not worked. Residents of Long Beach should be livid about just another example of how badly our city has been led by OíNeill, Foster, DeLong and the City Council as a body.
It is important for anyone wanting to learn all of the facts re this issue to read the Audit Report and then match the Auditor's findings with Management's written responses which in some cases rebut the Auditor's conclusions.
While this was taking place, the City Council busied itself with allocating a six figure sum to change the City's website, five figure sums on parades and thousands of dollars on Councilmembers' vanity proposals. It speaks volumes when the Mayor and City Auditor say taxpayers should be pleased with what City Hall has done when the record shows the costly consequences of what City Hall didn't do.
Previously on LBReport.com: Common Sense by Terry Jensen (continuing series):
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