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Fiscal sustainability committee loses member

Chuck Schmidt questioned city staff tactics
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Chuck Schmidt says the work of the fiscal sustainability committee will result in another tax measure for the city of Lincoln. Schmidt was a subcommittee member of the fiscal sustainability committee until he issued his letter of resignation Saturday. The fiscal sustainability committee’s primary mission is, according to Lincoln’s public information officer Jill Thompson, “to review and analyze the current financial situation and determine both the near-term and long-term fiscal implications of all city funds and to make recommendations leading to long-term fiscal sustainability.” The committee was formed in April, according to previous News Messenger reports. Schmidt’s resignation came after city staff “put up a roadblock” while he was trying to do research, according to Schmidt. Schmidt said he e-mailed Springbrook, the company that provides the city’s bookkeeping software, on Aug. 22. In that e-mail to Springbrook, Schmidt asked how long it should take, on average, for the city’s bookkeeping software program to create a report on city salaries and benefits. “There was no reply for a week,” Schmidt said. The reason Schmidt e-mailed Springbrook was to see if the software program is “cost-efficient” for the city. Schmidt didn’t understand why the city staff worked overtime on generating a salary and benefits report requested by Lincoln City Councilman Stan Nader a few months ago. Schmidt said he sent another e-mail to Springbrook, requesting answers to his questions. “They sent a letter back saying, “We have a contract with the city of Lincoln. That information can be obtained through (Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer) Anna Jatczak,’” Schmidt said. Schmidt also received an e-mail from Jatczak, which said the following: “Let me clarify..... ALL consultants are engaged AND paid for by the City... not ANY Commission or committee is empowered to request any information directly. ALL requests for information will come through (City Manager) Jim (Estep) or I. I hope I am making myself perfectly clear...” The News Messenger asked Jatczak why it is required that committee members request to speak with companies the city has contracts with. “I’m the one that directs vendor activities, pays the bills and determines their activity,” Jatczak said Friday. “What Chuck asked for could have resulted in billable hours.” Schmidt spoke of his experience during the Aug. 31 Fiscal Sustainability Committee meeting. “It seems to me any public servant should be happy to have citizens ask questions. Instead, she prevented me from getting an answer,” Schmidt said. “We should be able to look at every expense and item without fear of being criticized.” The topic of how fiscal sustainability committee members can conduct their research was addressed during last week’s meeting by committee chairman Richard Pearl. “All contacts with Lincoln city staff need to go through Jim (Estep) or Anna (Jatczak), as they requested,” Pearl said. Pearl said committee and sub-committee members need to inform both their sub-committee chair and Pearl himself of who they would be contacting and the questions they would be asking. “We have to be careful in how we approach interviews and go after information. We need to be thorough in our analysis and get everything we need,” Pearl said. “We don’t have an unlimited hunting license from the city.” The News Messenger asked Pearl what he thought of Schmidt’s resignation. “It is his decision,” Pearl said. “We reached out to him originally (to be on the committee) and he has decided he doesn’t want to be part of the FSC.” The News Messenger asked Jatczak why committee members are required to request interviews with city employees, contractors and outside city and county agencies. “As agreed to within the operating parameters of the fiscal sustainability committee, any requests for information must be directed between Jim and myself,” Jatczak said. “We wanted to minimize the impact on staffing by having multiple members asking the same questions on staff.” On Monday, Schmidt called the requirement to go through Jatczak, Estep and Pearl before doing research and interviews as “disruptive.” “I think we need to just get out the questions together, get them done and e-mail them up to the department heads,” Schmidt said. “They can answer them at their leisure.” The city needs to “cut their expenses to the bone,” according to Schmidt. “This is going to be Measure L,” Schmidt said. “Why? Because we can’t look at the expenses, so the alternative is if the city is to survive, if they’re going to be sustainable fiscally, is to make more income. How doe s a city make more income? Taxes.” Fiscal sustainability committee meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday at City Hall (600 Sixth St). Meetings are open to the public.