SLO management snubs policy critic
October 1, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Amid allegation of financial inadequacies, San Luis Obispo’s assistant city manager ordered the city clerk to leave the name of an outspoken applicant for a position on the Investment Oversight Committee off a staff report for Tuesday’s meeting.
San Luis Obispo business owner and former mayoral candidate Steve Barasch regularly addresses the city council about a lack of transparency and tactics with which city management invests its citizens’ money.
In August, Barasch applied for the newly created public representative position on the Investment Oversight Committee. He was the only person to do so. Even though city staff typically lists the names of proposed council appointments to advisory bodies and special committees, the assistant city manager ordered the city clerk to leave Barasch’s name off of the staff report.
“It violates the spirit of fair play,” Barasch said. “It’s been their policy to print on the agenda who applied or who they are going to recommend.”
The committee, which oversees the city’s $67 million portfolio, is currently comprised only of city managers and an auditor.
Last week, Councilman Dan Carpenter noticed that Barasch’s name did not appear in the staff report and brought the omission to the attention of acting City Clerk Sheryll Schroeder. Schroeder amended the agenda, but Assistant City Manager Michael Codron then ordered her to leave Barasch’s name off of the staff report, Schroeder said.
“I think it’s unfortunate that Steve’s name was left out of the staff report,” Carpenter said. “They always put the names down.”
After Carpenter questioned Codron about the omission, Codron asked Schroeder to send a memorandum to the council stating that Barasch was the lone applicant.
“The absence of Mr. Barasch’s name from the original report was an administrative oversight,” Codron said when asked why he ordered Schroeder to remove Barasch’s name from the report. “This oversight was corrected by issuing an agenda correspondence which is the normal operating procedure.”
Council policy for appointments to advisory bodies calls for a subcommittee of two council members to interview applicants and make recommendations for the positions.
The staff report for Tuesday’s investment committee appointment states, “The member of the public shall be appointed by the city council in accordance with the city’s process for appointing advisory body members.”
However, Barasch did not receive an interview for the position.
Carpenter said the council is not treating the Investment Oversight Committees as a traditional advisory body and has chosen not to follow the procedure outlined in the Advisory Body Handbook.
But, the Investment Oversight Committee is changing form. The council decided in April to add both a member of the public and a council member to the committee. Both appointments are scheduled to occur at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The change in structure makes the committee subject to California’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, which allows for public participation.
“It has to do with transparency,” Carpenter said.
Both Barasch and Carpenter supported the addition of council and public representatives to the investment committee to promote transparency and fiscal oversight.
For example, city management has not publicized its quarterly investment report since January. As of Tuesday, three fiscal quarters have completed since city staff placed the last public report online.
“The reports were completed when they were due, but we just overlooked getting them on the website,” said Finance Director Wayne Padilla.
Prior to July 2011, the city released investment reports monthly. The month before the change, the city’s investment portfolio suffered sizable losses, and it has since continued to decline.
On May 31, 2011, the city held $77 million in its cash and investment portfolio. Since then, the portfolio has decreased more than $10 million to $66.9 million, according to the latest report.
“There’s 65 million of the taxpayers’ money that’s earning no interest,” Barasch said. “That bothers me.”
Though the oversight committee is becoming an open meeting body, it can still only review investment policy and performance and make recommendations. It does so on a quarterly basis.
When asked if city management is opposed to Barasch serving on the committee, Codron said, “City staff does not take positions on appointments to advisory bodies, committees or task forces.”
The council meets Tuesday at 6 p.m. The investment committee appointment is the fourth pubic hearing item on the agenda.