Council office budgets: After a lengthy debate, the City Council voted to increase the office budgets of council members using $50,000 originally earmarked in the budget to fund a receptionist position.
If divided equally, the money would have boosted each council member's office budget from $10,900 to $14,746. However, the Council also approved an amendment by Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) requiring any council member who voted against using the $50,000 for office budgets to give their share of the increased funding to other members of the Council. Council Member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) was the lone council member who voted against using the funding for office budgets.
Ostrow and Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) argued against leaving the receptionist position unfunded, noting that during the budget process the Council had the option to increase office budgets or fund the additional position but opted for the receptionist. Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) said the Council could use any leftover money from its 2006 budgets to fund the position, but that wouldn't happen until later this spring.
Ostrow noted that using rollover dollars to pay for a staff position isn't likely something the Council would let any other department do.
“And I don't think we should do it for ours,” Ostrow said.
Hodges said the amendment requiring council members who voted against using the money for office budgets was meant to “back some of my colleagues and I into a corner.”
“We're trying to manipulate people's votes by trying to withhold money from them and their wards if they vote no,” Council Member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) said.
The move came as the City Council approved new budget guidelines for 2007. In addition to the increased office budgets, the salary and fringe benefits were transferred from the budgets of City Council members to the City Clerk's budget, along with several nonpersonnel costs such as worker's compensation and property services rental.
A list of inappropriate uses of city funds was also added to the new budget guidelines. Some of the items on the list include appliances; gifts or donations to individuals or groups; and membership fees not directly related to city business.
Wireless contract: The Council amended the city's wireless Internet contract so that funding to create and maintain a Digital Inclusion Fund will go directly to the entity selected by the Digital Inclusion Task Force.
As part of the 10-year contract the city signed with U.S. Internet Wireless (USIW), the company selected to build and manage the network, USIW will contribute an advance of $500,000 to support the creation of the fund and will contribute a minimum of 5 percent of net pretax income to sustain the fund. The agreement originally directed USIW to remit that money to the city. It will now go directly to the entity that will oversee the Digital Inclusion Fund.
Confidential reporting line: The Council gave staff the go-ahead to move forward with a confidential reporting line that would serve as a way for city employees to call and report fraud and ethics violations in the workplace. The Council directed staff to select an outside vendor to handle the reporting line and to make a recommendation about funding. The city's ethics officer will also provide semiannual reports on the utilization of the line, which is expected to cost less than $10,000 per year.