Friday, February 08, 2008

Doug, the Hypocrite

“I’m asking for accountability. I’m asking for you to show me, as a taxpayer, how you can save some money before you ask for more.”
L. Douglas Wilder at School Board meeting February 4, 2008

For more than three years River City’s beloved chief executive has been lambasting the School Board and Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman for failing to eliminate wasteful spending in Richmond Public Schools. He has withheld funding and he has insisted on no-growth budgets (which with rising costs really amounts to cuts.) He constantly waves around last year’s audit of RPS insisting that the Board and Superintendent are wasting twenty million dollars every year.

Well, it appears to me that the mayor doth protest too much. All of his noise about how badly the schools are administered is just a smokescreen to hide his own failure to fix the mess at City Hall. Citizens of Richmond might remember that His Excellency ran for mayor promising to clean up the “cesspool” of waste and corruption in our government. Yet, based on audit reports of his own Administration, it seems that Mr. Wilder talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk with regard to wasteful and illegal government spending. Millions of dollars are wasted at City Hall and all the mayor can do is put on his charming smile and ask for accountability by RPS.

Having spent most of my professional career examining the spending of public funds, I have learned that government accountability must begin at the top. If the head of an agency does not show, both in words and actions, that s/he insists on the lawful and efficient use of taxpayer money, it’s just not gonna happen. I have seen far too many public officials forget that the money they administer belongs to the taxpayers and that they cannot use it any way they want.

Considering how Mr. Wilder has acted, it is no wonder that people in his administration treat public money as their own. He has set the example by ignoring the law to accomplish his objectives--

Last year, because the audit of Richmond Public Schools by the city auditor didn’t show as much fraud, waste and abuse as the mayor wanted, he entered into an illegal “emergency” contract to audit RPS. Clearly, auditing RPS did not qualify as an “emergency” under the city’s procurement laws. Further, the contract was made using funds that the City Council had appropriated for a different purpose.

Mr. Wilder also directed that funds that were appropriated for Richmond Public Schools be withheld until the School Board bowed down to his demands for a second school audit. The mayor had no authority to withhold funds from RPS and his action usurped the School Board’s statutory responsibility to “manage and control the funds made available to the school board for public schools.” Code of Virginia, section 22.2-89. (The court decision on this issue did not establish that the mayor had such authority. The court ruled only that the School Board had failed to demonstrate that the mayor’s action caused them irreparable injury.)

The mayor also ordered the after-business removal of RPS’s administrative offices from City Hall, costing the city tons of money. Mr. Wilder ignored the fact that the funds that he used to effectuate the move were appropriated for another purpose. Mr. Wilder also ignored the basic rights of Richmond citizens by directing that they not be admitted to City Hall to attend a School Board meeting held the night of the move. It took the intervention of the courts to prevent the completion of the eviction.

Besides his unlawful actions, the mayor has used his bully pulpit to deceive the citizenry into believing that they pay higher taxes because of RPS’s wasteful spending. In speeches and in his vision newsletter last year Mr. Wilder tried to stir up the public’s wrath against the School Board by claiming that increased real estate assessments were the direct result of wasteful spending in the schools. Aside from the fact that real estate assessments are based on the housing market and have nothing to do with the level of city spending, the mayor ignored the fact that he has frozen school spending. Information I got from the city’s website shows that although total city spending is going up, spending for our schools is constant.

Fiscal Year.....City Spending.........School Spending
2007...............$617.6 million........$161.3 million
2008..............$639.2 million........$160 million
2009..............$654.1 million.........$161.6 million

So, if we in the City of Richmond are paying more taxes than we did when Mr. Wilder took office, it sure isn’t school spending that is the problem.

Mr. Wilder, as a citizen and taxpayer, "I am asking for accountability" by you and your administration. I am demanding that you "show me how you can save some money" before you ask me for more and more. Mr. Mayor, since you obviously are unable to curb wasteful and unlawful spending in your own administration, I suggest you stop throwing stones at the School Board and Dr. Jewell-Sherman.

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