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A Dozen Ways to Improve the the Mat-Su Borough Government

Here are a dozen suggestions for improving the Mat-Su Borough Government. These proposals concern transparency, efficiency and cost savings. It is budget season and we are facing shortfalls. We can no longer waste money. We need to pay for essential services. Also, the residents of the Valley deserve a more professional, highly functioning local government.

The MSB Assembly will need to propose and pass ORDINANCES to update the MSB CODE to implement these changes. Nicely asking the staff does not work.

To the Assembly members – Take charge. Please look at how other local governments are run – including the Municipality of Anchorage. Study their codes. Analyze their websites. Join the national County Government Associations. Use the best ideas to improve the MSB.

ONE: The Mat-Su Borough needs a true Internal Auditor.

The MSB has an employee whose job title is “Internal Auditor” but he doesn’t prepare any internal audits. He primarily does Economic Development stuff behind the scenes. Which doesn’t make any sense. Why is the MSB Assembly putting up with this charade of having a staffer called the Internal Auditor when we do NOT GET ANY INTERNAL AUDITS???

https://matsumuckraker.com/2018/03/19/the-msbs-internal-auditor-what-exactly-is-this-position-and-where-are-the-internal-audit-reports/

The Municipality of Anchorage has an Internal Auditor. They have had one for decades – from way back when they were smaller than the MSB is now. The Anchorage auditor & his staff analyze all sorts of stuff at the Muni to ensure “accountability is maintained over public funds and to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Muni Gov’t.” Their reports are numerous, detailed, IMPORTANT AND HELPFUL.

TWO: The Mat-Su Borough needs the long promised ONLINE CHECKBOOK.

Former Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Jim Sykes pushed for one for his entire 6 year tenure and he got nowhere. During the Spring 2019 Budget presentations, the MSB IT Director claimed that the online checkbook was either already online or “just about to go online”…but this wasn’t true as the online checkbook still does not exist.

Recently, new Assembly member Tim Hale proposed a Resolution asking the Manager to look into the feasibility of an online checkbook. Resolutions don’t work very well. Just set the darn thing up already! There is nothing that needs to be studied or analyzed further esp. since the IT Director said it was already almost ready to go. ORDER the manager to put it on the website by putting this requirement into the CODE & be done with it.

THREE: The MSB should require that ALL expenditures be approved by the Mat-Su Borough Assembly.

Every single one. Some local gov’ts do this via their consent agenda. It is actually quite easy to do on a regular basis. This is ultra transparency and it is sorely needed in the Mat-Su. If this is done, we almost don’t need an online checkbook.

Here is how Blaine Minnesota does it. https://matsumuckraker.com/2019/04/12/why-cant-we-be-more-like-blaine-minnesota/

FOUR: The Mat-Su Borough needs a Economic Development Authority instead of a Port Commission & It does not need a Port Manager

As it stands, the MSB’s “economic development” is all done behind the scenes by the Manager, the Attorney, the “Internal Auditor,” the Mayor, and favored Assembly members.

We need the public to be involved in any proposed economic development ideas. We need transparency. We need business proposals to get discussed at an early stage at public meetings so that certain companies are not given preferential treatment.

An Economic Development Authority or Board can take the place of the Port Commission. It can hold public meetings for all to attend like AIDEA.

IMPORTANT: The MSB does not need a “Port Manager” anymore. There is nothing to much to manage at the Port. Why are we paying a “manager” (who used to be the Port Commission secretary) a huge salary to “manage” the Port which has no ship traffic. This is truly ridiculous. There is no way that “Port” matters are keeping her busy enough for us to pay her 40 hours per week. The MSB Manager or Asst Mgr or the Public Works Director can handle the Port work – which primarily consists of arranging for repairs.

FIVE: All contracts – even small contracts – need to be approved by the Assembly.

In the past, all contracts over 20K had to get Assembly approval. Then, approximately 10 years ago, this was changed to 100K. This has been problematic. It is quite crazy that the Manager can approve contracts for $99,900 and doesn’t have to disclose them or explain them to anyone.

Remember when the Manager hired former Governor Sean Parnell to be a consultant but no one knew about it? Parnell’s firm was paid $103,500 (over the 100K limit) but the Assembly didn’t approve the contract and the Port Commission wasn’t informed. IF ALL CONTRACTS ARE REQUIRED TO BE DISCLOSED, THIS WOULD NOT HAPPEN.

The public deserves transparency with all contracts. We need to know how our tax money is being spent. We need to give input.

Plus the Purchasing Dept hasn’t been bothering to even submit the “Small and Sole Source contract” reports as required when the limit was changed from 20K to 100K. This is wrong and secretive:

https://matsumuckraker.com/2019/03/09/msb-is-failing-to-disclose-small-sole-source-contracts/

SIX: All correspondence from the MSB Manager & Staff to the Assembly members needs to be disclosed on the website

Time and again, documents are given to the Assembly members but not included in the public meeting packets. They are tucked into the Assembly members’ “red folders.” Or sent to them via email. Or paper copies are passed out at the Assembly meetings.

After lots of complaining from the public (primarily Eugene Haberman and the MatsuMuckraker), the MSB is starting to put more documents on their website. And the Manager is no longer submitting his “Confidential Memos” to the Assembly. Well, he is still doing this but he posts them a week later on the website. These memos need to be included in the meeting packets up front. Period. There is no reason why the public has to wait for the information.

The Assembly needs to pass an Ordinance that all documents given to the Assembly members must be included in the meeting packets or posted on the MSB website asap later (and only if there is a critical reason why the documents didn’t make the meeting packet in time). The only exceptions should be items that are discussed in Executive Session.

SEVEN: The MSB Attorney needs to submit monthly Litigation Reports as well as other Legal Reports in writing to the Assembly and Public.

The public has a right to know what cases have been filed by the MSB and/or against the MSB and when cases have been settled or closed out.

What happens now is that the MSB Attorney, during his allotted time slot at the Assembly meetings, either says nothing or says something vague like – well, we filed two new lawsuits and if any member of the Assembly is interested in more information, come see me. And he has often failed to mention lawsuits filed against the MSB at all. This is not transparency. Lawsuits affect the public purse as the MSB is know to hire expensive outside counsel to litigate the cases and/or to settle them for $$$$. The public deserves to know about the lawsuits and the status of the lawsuits. If a case is settled and we pay out money, the MSB needs to explain why – because paying out money means the MSB screwed up on some level and we need to know what went wrong and how it can be prevented in the future.

Many local gov’t require their gov’t attorneys to file public litigation reports. This is very easy to do. These can be posted on the website.

The MSB is paying for FIVE attorneys as well as support staff. We have the resources to do this. We also need regular reports on the cost of outside counsel. The MSB has a habit of hiring expensive law firms to handle cases and the public deserves to know who we have hired, why, and how much is cost, etc.

Here is how the City of San Diego does their reports:

EIGHT: Meeting video and audio recordings should be improved.

For Assembly meetings, the camera is set in one spot and it is hard to see anyone talking. The picture is not clear; the people are tiny. The volume is too low overall plus Assembly members and staff don’t always speak directly into their mics.

We paid a small fortune to set up the new Assembly chambers and to set up the new software to record and stream meetings. We are using the same software as other governments – but for some reason, the MSB’s live stream is subpar while other governments have crisp, clear steams with perfect volume and multiple camera angles. Why is this always the case? The MSB pays big bucks and gets a poor result?

IMPORTANT: The Assembly’s dinner hour also needs to be live streamed. It is technically a meeting. Often, the Assembly has a “special meeting” at 4 p.m., followed by a dinner break in their break room, and then their regular meeting at 6 p.m. This is not okay. The Assembly members need to eat out in the open and the video needs to keep recording. That is how the Muni does it.

Side note: It is ridiculous that the clerk (or two clerks usually), the manager and attorney are sitting on the DAIS. They are not elected officials. They should be sitting down in the staff area. Also, the DAIS is way too high (as pointed out by Jim Sykes.) It is very frustrating that we spent so much on the remodel and the end result is wonky.

The Port Commission and Planning Commission’s meetings should also be live streamed. The Port group needs to meet in the Assembly chambers like the Planning commission to facilitate this. The manger has a habit of revealing the most important economic development news to the Port Commission rather than the Assembly…and thus, because the Port meetings are held during the daytime and the recordings are not usually available on the website, the public doesn’t learn about the information. Plus there is always a ton of paper documents passed out at the Port Commission meetings that never make the meeting packet or website.

In fact, all MSB board meetings (Parks & Recs, Transportation, Platting, etc.) should at least be audio recorded and these recordings posted on the website.

The new Public Affairs Director has actually started posting audio of some Planning Commission meetings on the website. And occasionally he will record the Planning Commission live on Facebook. So, this is an improvement. But it should be done for all board meetings.

NINE: THE PURCHASING DIVISION NEEDS TO MOVE BACK TO THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

The MSB Manager moved Purchasing (from Capital Projects – previously, it was under the Finance Dept) to his purview in May, 2017. https://matsumuckraker.com/2019/05/12/the-throne-of-power/

This was a big mistake. Purchasing needs to move back to the Finance Department where there are more eyes on the purchases especially since we don’t have an online checkbook and the Assembly doesn’t approve all purchases/contracts.

Here is the current MSB structure (from the most recent CAFR):

Here is the structure from 2009:

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER:

Outsource Human Resources. Bill Klebedesal (a former MSB employee in the Capital Projects or Engineering Division) on Facebook has been advocating for this change for a long time. He says it will be more neutral. Maybe there will be fewer employment-related lawsuits.

Assembly member Jesse Sumner last year proposed merging Capital Projects (which was set up only about 5 or 6 years ago – and put into the newly purchased Kremlin Building over by the tennis courts) and Public Works again. We don’t have very many capital projects at the moment.

TEN: Mayor and Assembly Members should hold office hours

It is just the right thing to do. As it stands, it seems like only business people or local leaders get to have meetings with the MSB Manager and Dept heads and Assembly members but not regular members of the public.

ELEVEN. The Assembly members should be allowed to hire one or two staffers

As it is, the power in the MSB resides with the attorney, manager and clerk who have all worked for the MSB for many years. This is a huge problem. Assembly members come and go…and when they get elected, it usually takes them a while to get up to speed and figure out what is really going on. They need help. There is a power imbalance and an information imbalance.

A former Assembly member explained to me that if the Assembly members could have a staff assistant or two (and this probably needs to be divided by political inclination – so that the three more conservative members share one staffer and the four more liberal members share one staffer) to help them do research, it would make a world of difference.

In Anchorage, the Assembly members share a couple of paid staffers.

TWELVE: The Mat-Su Borough should not allow any staffer to have a “personal use” vehicle or a free lunch

It is absurd that the MSB provides “personal use vehicles” and unlimited free gas for said vehicles to the Manager, Attorney, and Clerk. (Note: the clerk opted not to pick up a MSB vehicle and gets a gas allowance instead.)

We have a fleet of MSB vehicles parked at the main DSJ building as well as other MSB buildings. Many of them sit there all day long.

If the Manager, Attorney or Clerk (who all primarily work in the main building) need to go somewhere on MSB business, they can borrow one of these fleet vehicles.

Also, it is crazy that the MSB taxpayers sometimes pick up the tab for local “lunch meetings.” See previous blog posts on this. If a MSB staffer needs to have a meeting with someone, this should be done at one of the MSB buildings…OR if they want to make it a lunch meeting, they need to pay for their own meals. The federal Government and the State gov’t do not allow gov’t money to be used for any meals unless the employee is out of town on a business trip. The MSB needs to follow this same rule. An ordinance needs to be passed on this.

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