The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 11, 2014

HERALD'S OPINION: New council on track to handle city financial woes

The Clinton Herald

---- — The time has arrived.

Two months after Clinton voters restacked their City Council’s lineup by voting four new people into office, it is now time to see how that seven-member group sets goals, analyzes data and works together to reach a consensus as it makes decisions affecting this community.

During a strategic planning session Tuesday, we got our first chance to see the dynamics within the new council and what its members want to have happen in 2014. From what we saw, the council wants to work on the very same areas — the city’s financial position, communication, health of the city and organization/services — that candidates brought up when meeting with the Clinton Herald Editorial Board in late October just prior to the election.

We applaud the council for sticking to that agenda — especially in the area of finances. When asked for ideas Tuesday to maintain and improve the city’s financial position, council members ambitiously listed 13 strategies, including developing a five-year plan and implementing a $1 million cash reserve.

What does concern us is what also surfaced during that meeting: Some new councilmen believe making financial decisions could be difficult because they aren’t being provided enough financial information.

Two new councilmen — Ed O’Neill and Tom Determann — made it clear Tuesday they believe the city is behind on its financial reporting, saying they want up-to-date monthly statements.

Getting such information has been a problem plaguing the city for years, coming to light in 2010 as the city’s financial office was undergoing a change in leadership. At that time, former City Administrator Jeff Horne began overseeing that department and then he successfully hired Jessica Kinser to fill the position of city finance director. After Horne left, Kinser was promoted to interim city administrator and then city administrator, and also hired new Finance Director Anita Dalton — making this their first strategic planning session in their new roles.

Hearing that there is not enough information is somewhat surprising since Kinser has been routinely applauded by the council for the financial data she shares with them; council members in public meetings have said they are in a much better position to make decisions since receiving financial information as provided by Kinser.

But on Tuesday, Kinser explained financial statements need to be audited before they appear before the council, adding that “… we’re months ahead of where we’ve been in the past.”

We can see why Kinser wants to make sure all of her i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, but agree that it would be difficult to make precise decisions without complete data. Our suggestion is that Kinser provides the information, with the council’s understanding that the numbers are tentative and could shift. They have the information they need, and she is protected from fallout that could happen if councilmen call her on discrepancies that are bound to happen before everything is finalized.

On another note, we also were glad to hear the council is concerned with the need for IT upgrades. The city’s website, a tool that could enhance much-needed communication with residents, has been woefully lacking for years in the information it provides. We believe the time has come to hire a third-party to update the site and then to appoint someone at city hall to keep it up to date.

As we said in this space in November, as the new year begins with new faces on the council, we hope they can work together as a group and with City Administrator Jessica Kinser to tackle these issues.

We continue with that hope and the belief that everyone’s goal should be the same — to make Clinton the best city it can be. And that can only be achieved with common goals and a vision.