|City Council Reverts To Fiscally
Irresponsible Behavior #1
March 25, 2006
After a couple of years of acting like a responsible legislative body providing good stewardship of public funds, the Richmond City Council, sometimes aided or at least enabled by staff, seems to have taken a turn for the worse, returning to the type of practices and spending patterns that caused a fiscal train wreck not so long ago. This is the first of several pieces about fiscal sloppiness the City Council seems to be falling into.
In a 5-4 vote on March 21, 2006, with Butt, Thurmond, Anderson and Viramontes dissenting, the City Council voted to appropriate $200,000 to a group of unspecified individuals to, in turn; distribute unspecified amounts of money to seven organizations to be used for anti-violence programs as recommended by the Black-on-Black Crime Summit held June 4, 2005.
The agenda item placed by Councilmember John Marquez that resulted in the allocation was listed as “Discuss Richmond’s Black-on-Black Crime Summit Recommendations.” There was no request for funding indicated on the agenda or any indication that this was an action item. Attached to the Agenda Request Form in the Council packet was the “Executive Summary” of the Black-on-Black Crime Summit that included under “Recommendations,” the following paragraph:
I need the city support to continue to go out and attract outside private outside capital to bring to the City of Richmond. The estimated cost to launch the above projects is $375,000. I need the city to provide $200,000 and we will raise the remaining $175,000 from the private sector.
According to the Executive Summary, the participating organizations include:
It is not clear who “I’ and “we” are from the written information presented to the City Council in the Agenda Packet, but based on the testimony at the meeting, the “I” appears to be the Rev. Andre Shumake, and according to a March 15 West County Times story, the “we” is “a group of Richmond ministers,” presumably the fourteen clergy listed as the Richmond Improvement Association, which describes itself as:
The Richmond Improvement Association (RIA) was formed in 1999 to help improve the quality of life in Richmond, California through community organizing projects designed to build a more peaceful and prosperous community. Under the leadership of Reverend Andre Shumake, the coalition of Richmond churches, partnering nonprofit organizations and concerned citizens…
Now, what’s wrong with this picture? A group of respected ministers led by one of their own who has received numerous awards for community projects takes the initiative to address a chronic problem of Richmond homicides that disproportionately affect the African-American community. This may be a case of doing the right thing the wrong way. Consider:
Taking time to
learn about a charity before you donate can go a long way to making
sure that the nonprofit organization and cause match your
intentions. However, researching charities can be daunting when you
consider that there are more than 700,000 federally recognized
nonprofit organizations - nearly 150,000 of them in California - and
no official "seal of approval" issued.
California law requires charities and commercial fundraisers to register with the Attorney General's Office and to file financial disclosure reports. All charities must file the Annual Registration Renewal Fee Report, and those with gross revenue or assets of $25,000 or more must file annual Form 990 financial reports with the Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts.
Again, my criticisms are not about Rev. Shumake or the clergy who testified passionately last Monday night, nor is it about the programs or the at-risk individuals who could benefit. My criticism is for a City Council that should know better than to act hastily and irresponsibly to spend substantial public funds on an unsolicited proposal without critical information.
What the City Council did is commonly known as “political pandering,” which is what a politician does when he or she pushes bad ideas to please interest groups. The word “pander,” which in this case is used politically, has an interesting derivation. It has two dictionary meanings: (1) to indulge somebody's weaknesses or questionable wishes and tastes (tired of pandering to their children's demands), and (2) to procure sexual favors for somebody (commonly known as pimping). The term dates to at least the 14th Century (Pandare, character in Chaucer's Troilus & Criseyde who procures Criseyde for Troilus).