February 24, 2022
Three Pocatello City Council members, Roger Bray, Claudia Ortega, and Chris Stevens continued their fight for financial transparency at the Pocatello City Council meeting held on Thursday, February 17.
At the meeting, Bray requested that Item B on the Consent Agenda, Material Claims for the months of December 2021 and January 2022, be pulled and discussed separately. During the discussion, Bray began by explaining why he wanted the item pulled. “Our duty as the Council is a fiduciary duty when it comes to finances,” he said, also noting that they should be approving claims prior to payment. Bray addressed what he called, “accusations that we were doing things wrongly” at a previous meeting where the three council members refused to approve a material claims report because of insufficient information. “It is my understanding from our previous CFO that we do things after the fact rather than before the fact, even though we’re statutorily required to process the claims in advance…” he said.
Bray noted the lack of detail the council members were receiving on financial reports, saying, “It is not our job just to rubberstamp and just ignore, it is our job to look at that detail.” See: P.A.G.E.: No Credible Justification for Pocatello Mayor Limiting Information on City’s Monthly Expenditure Report | Pocatello-Chubbuck Observer (pocatellochubbuckobserver.com)
Stevens spoke after Bray, saying, “I think it’s important for city staff and the public to know what brought me to the point of my vote two weeks ago not to accept the materials claim, not to pay those.” She said that for 18 months, they had been requesting detailed financial information, that they had finally gotten three months of detailed financial information from the past CFO, and that, “upon his departure we got one month of severely curtailed information…with a cover letter saying that the changes were made based on direction from the mayor.” She continued by saying, “I voted no because I believed it was the only way that I could get the discussion on the table…”
Newly elected Council Member Josh Mansfield countered, saying, “It’s my understanding that these material claims are things that are in operational budgets that were previously approved by the Council that says this money is here and available for your operations for your discretion to be used according to fulfilling the objective that your department has…” He went on to say that due to what happened at the previous meeting (i.e., not approving the material claims), “we are paying late fees to some of these vendors, that some vendors are refusing to continue to work with us until we have caught up on those bills…” He then moved to approve the claims report, his motion seconded immediately by Council President Rick Cheatum.
“Nine thousand dollars for cabinets and granite counters is not doing anything to accomplish any department’s mission” – Claudia Ortega
Ortega, during discussion, countered Mansfield’s statement, noting that at least one vendor was not bidding on contracts due to his claim of the City owing their company $45,000 since August, which happened prior to rejection of the material claims report in question, and so had nothing to do with that rejection. “I’m not going to approve a report unless I have the details that I need.” She also took issue with Mansfield’s statement that money budgeted can be used at the discretion of department heads, saying, “It is not okay for department heads to just spend money because it’s there. Nine thousand dollars for cabinets and granite counters is not doing anything to accomplish any department’s mission and any department head that wants to argue that point with me is more than welcome to.”
The entire exchange, through the vote to approve the report, can be seen here, beginning at time 6:04 and ending at time 27:58 on the video.