Months ago, we posted an article about an attempted improper budget end run on the part of Manassas city officials. This effort was spearheaded by Councilwoman Tonya Edwards, who insinuated that the Georgia Municipal Association was complicit in this attempt. Thinking it strange that the GMA would assist in such a thing, I decided to followup and ask whether GMA actually provided this advice, and if so, who provided it, and when it was provided. The backpedaling response, as usual, encouraged me to dig deeper. We’ll get to what has come to light in the past week or so as a result, but first let me describe the facts as they unfolded, and what these facts seem to imply.
Let me repeat Councilwoman Tonya Edwards’ quote from the October meeting prior to a voice vote on a resolution to shift funds around:
“We need to pass a resolution to be able to amend the budget by motion of the council instead of an ordinance. I’ve spoken with the Georgia Municipal Association at length on this subject and was advised that what we need to do is just pass a resolution stating that we can amend our city budget by motion of the council, line item, any time, you know, whenever is needed to maintain our balanced budget in the general fund.”
Clearly, the intent is to give the city access to funds to fix budget shortfalls. Also clear is the definite assertion by Councilwoman Tonya Edwards that she spoke with the GMA on the subject, at length, and was advised to just pass a resolution. These details will be very important to recall in a forthcoming post.
Next, in November, the city officials passed copies of a document to each council member, the mayor, and the newly hired city attorney. After reading this document in silence, the council voted unanimously to approve it, without ever reading it to the public. Only later, during the public comments section, when I asked it to be read aloud, did the public get to hear what the city council had already passed:
“Be it resolved by the City council, this 14th day of November 2016 that the Charter, section 6.28 can be, and is hereby, amended to state that the City Council, by motion may make changes in the appropriations contained in the current operating budget, at any regular meeting, special or emergency meeting called for such purpose, but any additional appropriations may be made only from an existing unexpended surplus.”
Note carefully that now this resolution attempts to modify the city charter itself, not by ordinance, which requires a formal public review process, but by a resolution whose contents were specifically concealed from the public until after it had been voted on. We have obtained a copy of this document which was signed by both the mayor and the city clerk (this detail will be important later also).
Given the slimy nature by which this resolution was passed, and the attempt to use this resolution to gain access to excess funds (such as from the water enterprise fund which appears to be the city’s long-term cash cow), I decided to dig deeper. So, I sent a GORA to Councilwoman Edwards asking her to provide clarification to this latest murk:
1. A copy of all emails or other correspondence in any form exchanged between you and any GMA representative regarding these voice and written resolutions. If no such correspondence was ever sent or received about these issues, so state.
2. The phone number(s) and carrier(s) used by you to converse with any GMA representative regarding these voice and written resolutions. If no such conversations were conducted about these issues, so state.
3. The names and contact information of any persons at the GMA with whom you conversed or corresponded regarding these voice and written resolutions. If no such persons were ever contacted about these issues, so state.
Her written response, confirmed later by the city attorney, was as follows:
1. There was no electronic or written correspondence between myself and any GMA representative concerning the budget resolution referred to in your letter.
2. There was no phone conversation between myself and any GMA representative concerning the budget resolution referred to in your letter.
3. I attended a meeting at Manassas City Hall with Ms. Pam Helton of the GMA. The purpose of this meeting was budgeting procedures and information from GMA necessary for preparing a budget for the City of Manassas.
Note that items 1 and 2 in her response are an apparent admission that she did not, in fact, receive guidance from the GMA on this resolution. Item 3 is an apparent misdirection, seeming to refer back to the pre-budget days in early 2016 before they created their first budget, which they had presumably blown through in less than half a year.
As I see it, there are three possible interpretations of her apparent outright lie in the October meeting regarding guidance from the GMA on this attempted resolution, as follows:
Option One: Councilwoman Tonya Edwards did not confer with the GMA about this improper attempt to change the charter, but knowingly misled the council members into thinking that she did in order to obtain their votes by deception. When caught at this deception, she backed off in her GORA response.
Option Two: As above, Councilwoman Tonya Edwards did not confer with the GMA about this improper attempt to change the charter, but colluded with one or more officials in her presentation in order to knowingly deceive the public and the remaining officials, if any. When caught at this deception, she backed off in her GORA response.
Option Three: Councilwoman Tonya Edwards did confer with the GMA about this improper attempt to change the charter, received guidance to do so, and in her response to the GORA attempted to cover for the GMA’s involvement.
I do not see any other rational possibilities that explain the facts, only questions about who is lying to whom and about what. Since Mayor Rogers has restricted open discussion of these issues during city council meetings, it is impractical to address these issues with the officials themselves. So, we are only left with trying to fit the puzzle pieces together the best way we can, and in other venues. This situation is compounded by the stated intent of the action, which was to obtain access to separate funds that would otherwise be unavailable.
In a pending article, we compare this situation to statutory requirements that the city officials have ignored in this case, and the possible implications.