Rossi absent at wrong time
Conference or no conference, Mayor Nancy N. Rossi committed what some journalists like to call an “unforced error,” by not attending last week’s City Council meeting and taking what was dished out by the public, politicians, and the council itself. That is a polite way to put it. It was, in fact, a bonehead decision that will have political ramification for the remainder of her term.
In the wake of the CohnReznick audit that found city financial procedures systemically flawed, the mayor said she was at a conference that was a year in the planning and could not get out of it. Well, yes, she could have. She should have dropped her plans, taken whatever financial hit was necessary, and put herself before the public that elected her.
City Hall’s financial culture has been the topic of many editorials in this publication throughout all our 25-year history. The use of bonding money to pay bills, the slipshod way books and invoices were and are managed, and the politically expedience of the budget process have been discussed in these pages many, many times.
The gravity of the situation was not lost on the City Council, which, whether for political coverage, or an outright bending the knee to principle, passed a “no confidence” vote in the waning minutes of the session. This is politically deadly, and we wonder how Rossi survives in the current climate.
The unwelcome news continued with the Municipal Accountability Review Board voting last week to put the city in Tier IV status, meaning the review panel, not city officials will have the final say of everything financial for the coming years. This includes this year’s budget, which currently has no mill rate increase, but could be imposed by MARB.
The missteps by the Rossi administration over the last few months has been nothing less than astounding. Officials from the third floor on down have shown no ability to get a grasp on how to revamp the city’s procedures. The system has been a point of contention for the MARB, which has harped on Rossi and others to get things organized.
The use of federal COVID relief funds for a marching band and to pay city department heads overtime during the pandemic was found to be an abuse by the audit and is among tens of thousands of dollars that are in question.
The audit itself is another story. There are people within and without City Hall that point to informational lacunae in the report – documentation that was available but not reviewed by the auditors. This is a secondary issue, but one that needs to be resolved so the taxpayers to get an honest assessment of what happened, why it happened, and what will be done to curtail a future occurrence.
Prior to last week’s no-confidence vote, this publication was looking to examine all the evidence before making any comment on malfeasance or misfeasance. We still believe the matter is fluid enough such assessments are premature. However, the mayor’s decision to forego a meeting of the City Council – a meeting that was the first after the audit was published – is a damning event that no explanation will remedy. Leadership means changing one’s plans.
Her decision to go to the conference will be seen as an act of political cowardice by her opponents, and a lack of leadership initiative by the MARB. The absence of the mayor at the council meeting was not lost on the panel, we are sure.
Mayor Rossi and her circle have made a tough situation untenable. It astounds us that someone in her advisory circle did not prevail upon her to remain in town.
Whatever happens to the Rossi administration from here on is yet to be seen; but, we think this ill-advised decision to absent herself from the City Council meeting will be a pivot point in how things evolve.