Watkinsville Mayor Bob Smith, on June 30, the final day of the last Fiscal Year, attempted to veto the nearly $2 million budget for the current fiscal year that had been passed in a 5 to 0 vote by the Council on June 17.
Smith sent out a press release on June 30 saying he was vetoing the budget because the Council “ignored” his request at the June 17 meeting to cut 12 percent from the budget and was instead using anticipated federal pandemic relief funds and the city's reserve funds to balance the budget.
Watkinsville City Manager Sharyn Dickerson, in an email message on July 1 copied to Smith, Council Members, and City Attorney Joseph Reitman, said “We do not believe the approved Budget Resolution (with attachments) was affected by the Veto Attempt.”
The City Charter provides language about vetoing ordinances but not resolutions, Dickerson explained in a separate email.
In addition, she said, Smith signed the resolution on June 26 and then struck through his signature and did not put into writing his objections within the 10-day window allowed in the Charter for vetoing ordinances.
String Of Confrontations
Smith raised objections to the budget and asked for the 12 percent cut at the June 17 meeting.
|Smith 6 25 2020|
He spoke for more than 30 minutes, without allowing interruptions, about his inability to understand the budget and raised a host of other long-standing complaints about Council and the city administration.
At the called meeting on June 25, Smith used his Mayor’s Report to revisit many of his complaints, speaking this time for more than 36 minutes.
The meeting was for the Mayor and Council to review project categories for the proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum for the November county-wide ballot, and Smith raised objections to many of the projects being discussed as well.
In the end, Council approved unanimously a project list that includes funds for: public safety facilities and equipment; recreational, parks, and greenspace; roads, streets, drainage, sidewalks, and bridges; and multipurpose government facilities, signage, and equipment.
Veto Letter And Budget Cuts
Smith did not send me a copy of his press release on June 30 announcing his budget cut, but he did send copies to media outlets in the area. One of those who received a copy sent it to me.
In the letter, Smith said he “vetoed the Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget passed unanimously by the Watkinsville City Council earlier this month” and said he had “requested a 12-percent decrease in the budget given a projected $146,000 decrease in the city’s sales and ad valorem taxes.”
Smith said he “has requested a legal opinion from the City Attorney regarding whether city funds and reserves can be used to balance the budget when there is a deficiency. This question remains to be answered.”
City Attorney Reitman participated in the meeting on June 17 when Council passed the budget resolution. Governments routinely use reserves to balance budgets and establish them for that purpose.
“I am fully aware the Council may override this veto, but I ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility,” Smith quotes himself as saying in his press release. “Draining our reserves and counting on taxpayer money from the federal government is not fiscally responsible,” he added.
Among the items Smith, in his hand-written notes, proposed cutting were the $5,000 for the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, the $5,000 for the Urban Forestry Board, half of the $5,000 for Tourism, $35,000 for county Dispatch Services, $9,323 for poll workers, and $3,500 from travel.
Smith also proposed cutting $300 from his $10,000 salary, $34,000 from legal and professional services, and $46,428 from employee salaries.
Council Member Brian Brodrick contacted me on Wednesday evening and said he had “background to offer” regarding the veto and the proposed cuts by Smith. He subsequently sent me a page-and-a-half memo.
Smith directs many of his harshest criticism of Council at Brodrick, and Brodrick is the most outspoken of Council members in responding to Smith at Council meetings.
Brodrick said that Smith did not make comments on the budget as it was being prepared by the city manager, did not meet with the manager and the city finance director “before suggesting on the day before scheduled final budget approval at the June 17 council meeting that council cut the publicly vetted and staff recommended budget by 12 percent.”
“The Mayor’s last-minute recommended cuts would eliminate the Watkinsville Police Department’s ability to access the county’s 911 and EMS services, cut salaries for existing employees, remove support for tourism and arts programs that bring customers to local businesses, and eliminate the city’s designation as a Tree City by cutting required funds for tree planting,” Brodrick wrote.
“Due to long term conservative fiscal management the City of Watkinsville has a more than adequate unallocated reserve fund of more than $3 million,” Brodrick wrote.
“The reason these funds exist is largely to smooth out recessions so basic functions of government are not dramatically impacted by economic ups and downs,” he added.
The Mayor and Council members met at City Hall for the June 25 meeting, but access was restricted.
Sarah Bell was invited to attend and video record the session, but she was unable to do so.
Philip Ashford volunteered to take her place, but he did not arrive until after the meeting was underway.
I had recorded the meeting on Ring Central, and the video below merges the first part of the meeting from my recording via Ring Central and the last part of the meeting as recorded by Ashford.
Smith began his mayor’s report at 1:43:52 in the meeting.