City Managers Push Service Cuts While Spending Over $1.1 Million On Cell Phones & Texting

A2P Notes: This is filed under “Scoops & Scores” because you read it first here.

In response to multiple FOIAs, information released by city officials shows that perks including monthly car allowances, city-provided cars, mileage reimbursements, cell phone allowances, cell phone costs, meals, stays at resorts and spas, entertainment and travel for Ann Arbor’s top managers and staff topped $2 million dollars between 2008 and June 2011. The majority of the $2 million came from the city’s General Fund, which pays for police, fire, and other citizen services.

Throughout the country, cities and counties strapped for cash are trying harder than ever to make ends meet. The day after Democratic Governor Jerry Brown took office in January 2011, he asked department heads to collect 96,000 state-provided cell phones. A June 17, 2011 piece published in the Long Beach Post reports that, “The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors directed county department chiefs to review their respective cell phone and data card use following an audit of the Department of Child and Family Services identified $514,000 wasted on phones and devices that were never used or used for what was deemed ‘questionable’ purposes, such as calling other countries.”

In June of 2010 Jim Fouts, Mayor of Warren, Michigan cut the cell phone allowances of all the 125 municipal city employees who had been receiving the money. Fouts also eliminated the monthly car allowances paid to city employees. Fouts told the Macomb Daily, “These are austere times, and sacrifices have to be made by everyone.”

In 2009, Washtenaw County Commissioner Kristin Judge turned in her county-provided cell phone and suggested that Washtenaw County could save $350,000 per year by cutting the cell phone perk. Ann Arbor County Commissioner Conan Smith accused Judge of “grandstanding.” In an October 2009 interview with A2Politico Judge said, “In my opinion, the cell phone budget is one of the most obvious places to find immediate savings. As much as I dislike this statement, ‘Everything is on the table,’ I will continue to look at the entire budget line by line. Some people think commissioners should not look at each line of the budget, but I disagree. I have been accused of micromanaging because I want to see where all the money is going, but I will not vote on $1 unless I understand the purpose of the spending and what we get for that $1. The people of Washtenaw County expect and deserve that from their elected officials.”

While city leaders in Michigan and elsewhere are slashing vacation days, longevity pay, and other perks for city employees in an effort to run tighter ships, information provided in response to FOIA requests shows that under the leadership of Mayor John Hieftje, Ann Arbor City Council, and former City Administrator Roger Fraser, Ann Arbor is running a luxury liner—for the benefit of city managers.

Since 2008, Mayor and Council have looked the other way while Fraser, his city staffers and city managers have rewarded themselves with perks such as meals out costing thousands of dollars charged to taxpayers, stays at four diamond hotels, spas and resorts, again charged to Ann Arbor taxpayers, clothing and theme park tickets charged to taxpayers, padded mileage claims reimbursed, and monthly car allowances awarded to city managers who work desk jobs. Along with the other perks, the salaries of city managers have been bumped up by the use of various kinds of “allowances” including cell phone allowances, and city-supplied cell phones. Since 2008, Ann Arbor has spent $1,107,060.80 on cell phone charges, cell phones, cell phone allowances, data and texting plans for city staffers and non-unionized managers. The city checkbook register, available online, shows payments made to nine wireless service providers by the City of Ann Arbor between 2008 and June 2010 including Sprint, USA Mobility Wireless, ATT Wireless and Continental Wireless.

To date in the current fiscal year, Ann Arbor has spent $119,032.78 on cell phone charges, and $147,760 on cell phone allowances according to information contained in FOIAed documents.

Third Ward Councilmember  Stephen Kunselman commented that the issue of whether city staff should enjoy such a wide variety of perks costing taxpayers millions has already been addressed. He commented via email on the issue of perks for city staff members in light of cuts to police, fire and other citizen services: “I have been under the impression that these issues have been addressed where needed; if they haven’t then they will be if there is any impropriety.”

A search of the Council minutes back through 2008 revealed no resolutions by any City Council member related to the issue of staffer perks such as meals out, stays as luxury resorts and spas, car allowances to staffers with desk jobs, or the cell phone spending.

Ingrid Ault, the Executive Director of Think Local First, and who is opposing Kunselman for his seat on Council, did not respond to repeated requests for comment concerning her stance on whether the city should be paying out millions in staffer perks while cutting police, fire and other citizen services. Ault’s single page web site has three links for visitors to donate money, but has no links to information about how she would approach any issue facing the city.

Marwan Issa, also opposing Kunselman, has no web site up yet (Update: the day after this piece was posted, Issa out up a campaign web site: http://www.marwanissa.com. Tip o’ the keyboard to Mark Koroi.)

Each month, Ann Arbor spends $14,700 on cell phone allowances for city managers and staffers. Included in the list is 15th District Circuit Court Judge the Honorable Christopher Easthope, who receives a cell phone allowance of $146 per month. Magistrate Margaret Currie also receives a cell phone allowance in the amount of $110 per month. Neither Chief Judge Julie Creal nor Chief Judge Pro Tempore Elizabeth Polland Hines receives a cell phone allowance or a city cell phone, however. City Attorney Stephen Postema not only receives a cell phone from the city, but a monthly cell phone allowance of $146, as well, making Postema a “double-dipper.” To download a list of city staff who receive cell phone allowances, click here.

In addition to Postema, Ann Arbor taxpayers supply cell phones to 86 other city employees, most of whom work desk jobs and most of whom are non-unionized top-level managers. One-third of the city’s 706 employees receive the cell phone perk in the form of a city-supplied phone, monthly phone allowance, or both.

The City Charter requires Council as a group to directly oversee the work of the City Administrator. Council’s Labor Committee makes recommendations to Council concerning the compensation and evaluation of the Administrator’s performance, as well as that of the City Attorney, Stephen Postema. The Labor Committee consists of John Hiefje, Stephen Rapundalo, Second Ward Council member Tony Derezinski, and Fourth Ward Council members Marcia Higgins and Margie Teall. In essence, unlike the Budget Committee, on which there is one Council member from each of the city’s five wards, John Hieftje has appointed to the Labor Committee Council members from only two of the city’s five wards. The result has been that a small group of Council members, representing a small number of the city’s voters, have been controlling the City Administrator and setting city policy.

A City Council member seeking re-election responded via email to a concerned citizen who’d complained about the perks for city managers that the “amounts involved are so small, the issue is not worth pursuing.”

In 2009, City Administrator Roger Fraser recommended to Council that Mack Pool be closed to save $102,000, and to stop curbside Christmas tree pick-up to save $34,000. In 2009, the taxpayers spent $257,385.16 on cell phones, data and texting packages, and cell phone allowances for Fraser’s top-level managers, $84,900 in car allowance payments to many of the same individuals, as well as $55,800 for meals out and stays at resorts and spas, again for many of the same individuals. City Council did not close the pool, but rather raised user fees 25 percent on the recommendation of a Task Force headed by First Ward Council member Sandi Smith.

Fifth Ward Council member Mike Anglin is running for re-election. He had this to say in response to A2Politico’s questions about the perks: “As Ann Arbor moves towards spending reductions, all items of the budget need to be examined as to their benefits. A guide in this direction would be a commitment to providing services to the tapayers. Spending that does not meet this criterion needs to be examined and discussed through the Budget Committee, and City Council at large. As a member of the Budget Committee I will bring these issues before the City’s CFO so that other Council members can be aware of them and take needed actions. Savings to the Budget will allow for increase in services to the community.”

Neil Elyakin, a Democrat challenging Anglin, does not list city finance or the budget among the “issues” in his web site. He did not respond to multiple requests to comment on whether it’s appropriate to spend on staffer perks while cutting citizen services.

Like First Ward Council member Sabra Briere, Second Ward Council member Stephen Rapundalo, Fourth Ward Council member Marcia Higgins voted to approve the most recent budget that cut police and fire and other citizen services. All three Council members refused to respond to questions about whether continued spending on perks for city managers was excessive in light of cuts to police and fire they recently voted in favor of making.

Democrat Tim Hull is challenging Rapundalo in the August primary. At a recent candidate forum, Hull told voters preesent that, “While the current economic situation has necessitated difficult city budget decisions, police and fire services should be the last areas to be cut.” Hull added, “If elected I will look to ensure the city is fiscally responsible and sets its budget priorities based on community needs.”

You can contact John Hieftje and City Council members with your feedback and suggestions by clicking this link.

Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=8472

18 Comments for “City Managers Push Service Cuts While Spending Over $1.1 Million On Cell Phones & Texting”

  1. […] leaf collection to save $280,000. In 2011, A2Politico wrote about the fact that city managers were pushing service cuts while compensating themselves with millions from the city’s General …, such as various spas, as well as the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. In that 2011 piece, Third […]

  2. […] directly supervised, Ann Arbor slashed hundreds of middle-class jobs and paid upper-level managers six-figure salaries, lump sum bonuses and plentiful perks. She has proposed no resolutions nor has she objected over the past six years as the city filled […]

  3. […] Ann Arbor slashed hundreds of good-paying, middle-class jobs and paid upper-level managers six-figure salaries, lump sum bonuses and plentiful perks. She has proposed no resolutions nor has she objected over the past six years as the city filled […]

  4. Now I do not see your point… cash-outs for vacation time has been around for years and there is nothing wrong with that “sacrifice” — tell that to the Union autoworkers as well… If vacation time is not money why is it negotiated? pay + benefits + vacation IS money. Please use a different argument that is not considered hiding six figure pay (which is what they are worth by the way). The credit card thing you spoke of I can see… vacation time absolutely NOT.

  5. I see your point. However, I had the opportunity to take the same lump sum payment for vacation time when I worked for an automotive union (definitely not repub.) for the tune of several thousand dollars a year and there was no lash back from anyone. If a person took vacation AND received a lump sum payback that is one thing but if a person elects not to take vacation they should get paid. I do not view that as extravagant. I am not defending political figures… I am debating that these political (public) people do not seem to be doing anything illegal.

    Finally, if this is not about living in A2 then why this post: From FACEBOOK: “I’m thankful to live in Whitmore Lake and not in A2, it’s getting ridiculous.”—Deb Anderson

    • @Mark, when officials demand the rank and file take serious cuts, hiding six-figure pay bumps for city managers in the form of cash-outs is simply obscene. Vacation time is not money. Use it, or lose it.

  6. If things are so bad in A2, why do people live there? Why is
    it ranked as one of the best places to live and retire in?
    Is there any mention how many raises these “city officials”
    received in the last 10 years (1 to none)?
    So if the spending is perfect as compared to them not receiving
    raises is it all that bad they get a car allowance, couple
    dinners, and good insurance? Has anyone looked at both sides?

    • @Mark, you sly devil. You must know that city managers are not given raises. That might cause a ruckus amongst the rank and file who are being asked for concessions. City managers such as Roger Fraser, Sue McCormick and Stephen Postema are given opportunities to cash out hundreds of hours of sick time and vacation. They’re given lump sum payments. It’s a deliberate tactic and was done, just recently, when Postema was allowed to cash out 250 hours of vacation time, equal to about $20,000, or 12 percent of Postema’s base pay. Pretty sweet, huh? Meanwhile, everyone else is taking cuts.

      Why do people live in Ann Arbor? You’ll have to ask them. This piece isn’t a referendum on why people live in Ann Arbor, but rather why elected officials think it’s okay to reward city managers extravagantly while demanding concessions and cuts from everyone else. It’s downright Republican.

  7. “Neal Elyakin, a Democrat challenging Anglin, does not list city finance or the budget among the “issues” in his website. He did not respond to multiple requests to comment on whether it is appropriate to spend on staffer perks while cutting citizen services.”

    Mr. Elyakin needs to get on the ball and start aggressively responding to these issues and inquiring as to citizen concerns if he is to seriously challenge Mike Anglin – who is approaching political icon status in the Fifth Ward.

  8. From FACEBOOK: “@Bruce – in Ann Arbor, we are laying off police and fire fighters and building a million dollar sculpture fountain for City Hall.”—Peggy Page

  9. From FACEBOOK: “Here in sacramento they are firing police and firemen, but spending over $400,000,000 on a new stadium that we DO NOT NEED.”—Bruce pressler

  10. From FACEBOOK: “I’m thankful to live in Whitmore Lake and not in A2, it’s getting ridiculous.”—Deb Anderson

  11. Stephen

    The city does have some financial information on line in it’s data catalog. The link to the catalog is on the home page. The documents include a check register, but it does not appear to be complete. For example, I cannot locate any payments that appear to be for the credit cards (called purchasing cards). I also did not see any payments to Clark Construction Co. It’s hard to believe the company doing the police/courts building project has not gotten a payment since June of last year.

  12. @Mark thanks for the info on Issa’s website. I’ve changed the story to reflect the fact that he has put up a site.

  13. Stephen Lange Ranzini

    Here are some large buckets that should be immediately drained!

    While they are at it, they should put the entire city checkbook online ASAP, so we can look and see where ALL our money is being wasted.

  14. “Marwan Issa, also opposing Kunselman, does not have a website up yet.”

    Check out http://www.marwanissa.com

    It was just put up.

  15. Sigh. So like Miss Piggy, who moi?

    Absolutely, if some official has a cell phone then they have a limit on the amount used. They can use the computer to communicate or a freaking landline.

    Paying for expensive dinners and resorts say should stop immediately. Again with Roger Fraser, the man who never met a union contract he didn’t like, and loves to play the fat cat role. Boy, he was certainly the wrong man to go negotiate with the police and firefighter’s union.

  16. The labor committee, led by CM Rapundalo, should stop blaming the unions for the city’s fiscal problems. Union members know about these perks and don’t see why they should take cuts while the managers continue to reward themselves with goodies. Cleaning up these abuses and opening the city’s books would do more to get union concessions than Rapundalo’s continual union bashing.

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