July 20, 2021
By: Pocatello City Council Member Chris Stevens
City Council endured a problem-fraught budgeting process last year. It resulted in a published budget containing an approximate 4-million-dollar error that was discovered and reported by the local grassroots citizen group, Pocatello for Accountable Government entities (P.A.G.E.). Mr. Krueger (Pocatello consulting Chief Financial Officer) has, thankfully, been discovering, reporting, and correcting additional errors and irregularities since he arrived. Last year’s debacle was the unfortunate result of the mayor having placed the wrong person in a critical job. Such hiring errors create stress for everyone.
This year’s process appears to include reduced deliberation and priority-setting opportunities for Council. One additional budget discussion meeting has been scheduled at the request of several council members. Hopefully, the city council will engage in authentic, in-depth examination and discussion of the proposed 2022 budget.
Pocatellans have been telling elected officials and candidates loud and clear they want to be able to understand what they are getting for their taxes. They justifiably expect their local government to be able to succinctly explain where our roughly $130,000,000 budget goes. It is impossible for Council to know what to tell constituents when legitimate questions are considered inappropriate challenges that need to be shut down whenever possible and ignite dramatic meltdowns.
Since new Council members are provided virtually no orientation training to help them hit the ground running, there are only two options: 1) sit silently for months and vote the way the Council majority does regardless of whether or not you really understand what is going on; or, 2) ask questions. Unbeknownst to me when I joined Council, questions are considered not only inappropriate but downright dangerous.
Council members are, by statute, the fiduciary officers of city government. We must be given the information we require, allowed to ask clarifying questions, and provided ample time for careful deliberation. Our very form of government was born in an environment of animated debate and vigorous disagreement among Founders who chose to fight for their individual beliefs but compromise to form a nation. Perhaps the mayor and city council members should follow their example when making critical decisions.
Citizens deserve Council members who care enough to ask the necessary questions and make pertinent comments. Serving on City Council is not a full-time job, but it must be a full-time commitment. That means late nights and early mornings. That means refusing to back down when asking the questions the voters deserve, and enduring the punishment that accompanies trying to be an informed, responsible decision-maker. It means not making decisions or public comments influenced by whether or not it is an election year or who your campaign donors are.
Serving in public office is dead serious. Those who govern hold the health and welfare of others in their hands. Our mistakes, intended or otherwise, are indelible.