By Mary Norwood, Post 2 At-Large
Member of Atlanta City Council
As elected officials, we must be good stewards of your money. This current budget shortfall is of tremendous concern to me. I, along with 14 other council members, passed a balanced budget, and we were all alarmed when told of a significant shortfall.
What is being done?
The City Council took action upon learning of the shortfall with two important steps:
1. A resolution for an audit of the budget was authored by Councilman Howard Shook – which was co-signed by all council members.
2. A resolution creating a Technical Review Committee was authored by me, Councilwoman Mary Norwood, to assist in the audit and contribute invaluable professional (that is, non-political) expertise in analyzing the city’s systems and controls to ensure this will not happen in the future.
What will the Technical Review Committee accomplish?
The nine-member technical review committee will advise the city in the development of better fiscal polices and in the implementation of controls for preparing, managing and overseeing future city budgets.
What experience will the members of the Technical Review Committee have?
• Previous work experience with a large business with multiple operating divisions and a central budgeting process
• Previous budget experience with budgets of at least $100 million with multiple subsidiaries
• Understanding of the municipal bond market and debt service funding
Which associations will independently select the participants?
1. One member is being selected by the Georgia Government Finance Officers Association;
2. One member is being selected by AGA, formerly known as the Association of Government Accountants;
3. Four members are being selected by the Georgia Society of Certified Public Accountants;
4. Two economists are being selected by the Georgia Bankers Association;
5. One member is being selected by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
What have I done in the past?
1. I have reviewed and asked professionals to review, our Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, and give me their professional opinion.
2. I have reviewed, and asked professionals to review, our bond documents to provide me with their expert analysis.
3. Every year I am an active participant in budget meetings — attending days and days of presentations. That’s how I know a document was produced and was presented as balanced.
As a council member who has always been an active participant in all budget preparations, it is particularly disturbing to find that despite my best efforts, our controls have not been adequate to prevent an “unforeseen catastrophe.”
What must we do now?
We must not bludgeon the budget. Instead, we must be smart, business-like, and efficient; that means achieving 21st Century economies by reducing the layers of management and administrative functions. We must spend time and energy delving deeply into departmental operations to ensure that city services will continue to be provided – with a reduced amount of supervised oversight. We must work together to ensure that we know:
1. What has happened to the money
2. Why there haven’t been sufficient operational controls in place
3. What new controls must be established so this won’t happen again
That’s why participation from outside, independent accounting and financial experts are so critical to this being accomplished. I look forward to their review and their recommendations and to all of us feeling that we are better insulated from further “unforeseen catastrophes” being foisted on us and our constituents going forward.
I am committed to being a good steward of public money and being accountable with your tax dollars. It is the most important obligation that we have in elective office and I intend to do everything in my power for a full, transparent, and accountable city government.