The first city council meetings probably began in Ancient Mesopotamia, but here we are 6,018 years later and they are still going strong! We rung in the new year with the inauguration of fresh council members and some unconventional suggestions from the old ones.
In perhaps the biggest event of 2018, I gave the annual State of the City Council Meetings address to a joint session of Congress. While I feel bad that they all had to return a few days later for some other “state of the” something, I got my message across loud and clear: I, too, can read a teleprompter.
For the address, the reviews, and the podcast interviews, do not wait another year to check out the January Month in Review.
And if someone tells you that January was just a so-so month for council meetings, you tell them, “when else are you gonna hear a councilor say the phrase, ‘Brawls Deep?'”
Excitement was high in the Shakopee council chamber as the agenda was emblazoned with one big, bold, pulsating item: the 2017 financial statement. It was so massively important, the half-dozen citizens in the audience made sure it rocketed ahead.
“Anybody that would like to discuss an item that’s not on the agenda tonight?” Councilor Jay Whiting scanned the crowd, which remained seated with their heads down.
With no movement, the finance director/master of ceremonies took center stage to unveil the dollars and cents.
“We will be having plenty of journal entries and lots of receivables and lots of payables yet to come in,” he cautioned as the spreadsheet loaded onscreen.
“Looking at your revenue,” he gestured, “your taxes line item is $331,000 under budget at the moment.” Uh-oh. That’s a lot of moolah not in the bank.
But suddenly, he dropped a whiplash-inducing load of good news–it wasn’t a winning lottery ticket, but it was close:
“We talked a whole year about our licenses and permit revenues coming in high–and they have. We’re close to a million dollars OVER what we originally budgeted. It’s a great year on that end!”
“Are we missing a microphone or something?” came an abrupt gravelly voice from the direction of Councilor Mike Luce. “This thing’s not working.”
“Yeah, I can hear myself reverberating here a little bit,” the finance director acknowledged, tapping the mic.
The presentation halted as Luce fiddled with a device near his ear. “Battery issue. Sorry about that,” he mumbled.
“Can you hear me now, Councilor Luce? Hello? Test?”
“What channel are you on?” Councilor Matt Lehman attempted to troubleshoot. “Channel one?”
But it was no use. Councilor Luce tossed aside the battery and instead leaned forward to listen more intently.
“Your revenues for the year are about 102% of budget,” the finance director continued, before pausing near the bottom of the list in front of a glaring red arrow pointing downward.
“Kind of the whole point of this report is that you’re quickly able to identify something that’s not quite within that norm. A red down arrow is part of that.”
The Scarlet Arrow was painfully stuck to the natural resources department. Well, nature isn’t cheap I suppose. Did iron ore and mineral sands get more expensive?
“What is going on in that department?” the director asked rhetorically. “Neither of us realized that when public works employees aren’t snow plowing in the winter, they’re out trimming trees. And that time is charged to natural resources.”
“Really sound financial year,” he wrapped up, adding almost too calmly that the ice arena revenues had “an increase of about $280,000.”
With no applause or fanfare–although plenty of thumbs up from me at home–the presentation concluded. The attention shifted to councilors’ reports, which could be lively and engaging or, in the case of Councilor Lehman, more depressing than a municipal financial report.
“School board highlights: closing Pearson School,” he sighed. “One year, possibly two. Taking the sixth graders, moving them to the middle schools. They are gonna reroof it and use it in the future.”
He stopped and tried to remember logistics. “Was it the ninth grade going to the high school? They’re making a shift. Had about a $400,000-$500,000 deficit they’re working on. They’re projecting up to a $2 million shortfall for ’18-’19. So there’s gonna be some hard choices.”
That’s a shame. I know a city that’s rich in licenses-and-permits money, if anyone’s looking.