Rybak accused twice in one day of playing loose with city charter

In two separate and unrelated matters, Mayor R.T. Rybak today was accused of breaking the city charter.

The first accusation came from Carol Becker, an elected member of the city’s Board of Estimation and Taxation. She sent a letter to the Mayor and City Council demanding that Rybak release his 2012 budget by Aug. 15, a deadline required by the city charter.

Rybak told the Board of Estimation in late July he planned to give his budget speech on Sept 12. Becker says that’s far too late because it doesn’t provide enough time for the public to review the budget and weigh in before her board holds a public hearing on the tax levy limit Sept. 15.

Becker, in her letter, said she would pursue court action to require Rybak to release all required budget documents. 

Rybak’s spokesman, John Stiles, pointed out that Rybak is not required by city charter to give a budget speech. The charter requires that he release his expenditures, revenues and a 5-year capitol improvement program, as well as a budget message. The charter does not specify that the budget message be delivered orally. Stiles said Rybak plans to satisfy the requirements laid out in the charter by Aug. 15.  

Why the delay in giving his budget speech?

Stiles said 2011 has been a difficult year for city officials to put together a budget. The city is still responding to the tornado that hit North Minneapolis on May 22. Plus the city only found out in the last couple weeks how much funding it would get from the state government. The Legislature didn’t set state aid funding until July, when it ended a state government shutdown with a special session.

Stiles mentioned that Rybak did the same thing in 2007, following the collapse of the I-35W Bridge.

“Mayor Rybak is busy working through many important budget issues,” Stiles said. “He doesn’t have time to worry about non-issues.”

A few hours after Becker sent her letter to City Hall, the local fire union blasted Rybak in a press release, saying the Mayor was breaking the city charter by sending layoff notices to 10 firefighters without City Council approval.

Stiles confirmed those layoff notices had been sent, but said Rybak was not acting unilaterally.

Rybak today made a proposal to transfer $1.75 million from the city’s contingency fund into the police and fire department budgets. Of that, $1.1 million will go to the Fire Department budget in order to soften what would have been even more drastic cuts.

The City Council had already voted in December to essentially cut $1.45 million from the Fire Department in the event that the state Legislature cut state aid. When the state made a $23.5 million cut in July, the city was forced to deal with an even deeper budget problem because the cut didn’t come until later in the year.

Stiles said that with out the $1.75 million transfer proposal, 44 firefighters would lose their jobs. The transfer reduces that number to 13, with three of those coming from mandatory retirement.

Stiles said the idea that Rybak was acting unilaterally is misleading, because the City Council authorized the Fire Department cuts in December, and now staff is just making the necessary moves to deal with the cuts.