City Council in over its head
May 23, 2003
City Councilman Tom Davis wants oversight. Three times the voters of South Lake Tahoe marked their ballots to hire him to be their overseer. Now we want to know where he has been for the last decade.
South Lake Tahoe is in a world of financial hurt. This week’s headlines included the council not having a clue $5 million was borrowed from the general fund over the course of several years to keep the Redevelopment Agency afloat.
There may be pretty buildings in town that have replaced less desirable ones all in the name of redevelopment, but the city now must deal with a black eye instead of an eyesore.
The agency was created in the early 1980s. Council members act as the agency members. The city manager is in turn the redevelopment director. The council and agency are supposed to have separate budgets.
Kevin Cole wrote as much in a guest column in the Tahoe Daily Tribune on April 15, 1995. At the time he was on the council and chairman of the Redevelopment Agency. It was also that year that the council approved allowing the Redevelopment Agency to collect room tax in the redevelopment area, whereas it had been going into the city’s general fund.
Cole wrote: “Redevelopment funds and city general funds are two separate pots of money. The city has not paid one cent of redevelopment’s bond debt.
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“… redevelopment is based on sound financial practices that are being followed conservatively by the South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency.”
Davis and Hal Cole were on the council at that time. What have they been doing all of this time? It is amazing at Tuesday’s council meeting Davis had the audacity to utter the phrase, “Where’s the oversight?”
You tell us, Councilman Davis.
The council is like a board of directors of a company, with the city manager in the role of CEO and the residents of South Lake Tahoe the shareholders. Therefore it is incumbent upon the council to be the watchdogs. We hired them to do so. But is also imperative the voters hold these elected officials accountable for the financial boondoggle that we are in.
For now we will excuse Kathay Lovell and John Upton because they were just seated at the beginning of the year. But Davis and Cole are in their third term, while Judy Brown is in her second.
When Cole, no relation to Kevin Cole, ran for re-election last fall he said the learning curve on the council is four years. With that said, he must expect us to excuse any fiduciary ineptness on his part because he was in a learning mode. Most jobs do not allow for such a lengthy honeymoon.
Because the Tribune thought as much six months ago, it did not endorse Cole. One has to wonder why he was noticeably quiet at Tuesday’s council meeting when it was announced for all the world to hear — or at least his constituents — that $5 million was siphoned from the account that pays for basic services like police, fire and snow removal for the benefit of redevelopment.
Redevelopment is supposed to pay for itself and be profitable. It clearly has not been. Instead we are left with a police department that cannot attract candidates because its salary scale is out of whack with comparable departments, a fire department that needs equipment to maintain the basic services but cannot afford to make the necessary purchases and roads that are in such disrepair that it is not that much of an exaggeration to say the cracks could swallow a small child.
It is time for the residents of South Lake Tahoe to get mad. Our city is in financial ruins. The bright spot is City Manager Dave Jinkens and his recent hires appear to want to rectify the wrongs of days gone by. Past city managers, redevelopment managers and city clerks have some explaining to do. The same goes for Davis, Cole and Brown.
Not knowing about $5 million being transferred from one fund to another is inexcusable. It is also unacceptable to have let more than a dozen hotels rack up $666,000 in unpaid transient occupancy taxes, to allow 350 businesses not to pay their license fees to the tune of $90,000 and to let people have garbage service without paying their bills.
People living here deserve better than what they are getting. It is time we demand accountability from the people we have put in charge of running this city.
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