By Stuart Soffer
Is there a Menlo Park Finance Audit Committee?Uploaded: Dec 3, 2013
Amongst the commissions and committees in Menlo Park noted on its web site is the Finance/Audit Committee (FAC). This relatively new committee was instituted by the city council in January 2008 in response to incomplete and misunderstood financial information that became fodder during the council campaign season of 2006. Subsequently the council created the FAC committee composed of two council and three public members to explore financial information and develop reporting and projection tools to assist the council as well as staff. Unlike all other commissions and committees that have 4-year appointments, the FAC appointments were for two years and limited to two terms.
While not stated as a goal, the FAC assured that at least 2 of 5 council members became 'experts' on the city's financial structure and dynamics. More importantly it provided a venue for airing urgent financial issues as they arose such as the consequences of the housing mortgage meltdown several years ago, and issues related to the city's bonds. Former City Manager Rojas took this committee very seriously and attended nearly every meeting. The composition of its council and public members was outstanding and brought real-world business expertise and previewed perception of issues for staff. As one of the three public members I thought the meetings were great healthy dialogs on this most important aspect of city operation.
The committee wasn't without frustrations. Staff probably on the one hand may not have been comfortable with the visibility but at the same time valued the result of vetting issues and having a better 'product.' The public committee members were always engaged, but frustrated that suggestions could have fell on deaf ears.
By January 2013 all three public members were 'termed out' without reappointments or new appointments to continue the body. Shortly thereafter the current city manager placed the disbandment of the FAC on the Council's Consent Calendar. This raised eyebrows of some council members who requested that it not be dissolved. Almost a year has elapsed without any action on appointments, without any meetings, and without, as far as I expect, the monthly financial status charts for council that were the key continuous work product for the benefit of the Council.
Ironically, concurrent with the attempt to dissolve the city FAC last year, Menlo Park School District created similar body recognizing the need for diligence regarding district finances and bonds.