Joint commission meets

Published 12:05 am Saturday, November 22, 2014

A joint city/school task force had its first meeting Friday afternoon, newly dubbing itself an advisory commission, deciding upon School Board member Judith Brooks-Buck as its chairman and setting its next meeting for Jan. 13 at 10:30 a.m.

The delay is due to the fact one of the members, Vice Mayor Charles Brown, will no longer be on City Council come January.

With that consideration, “I don’t think it behooves us to go into a lot of detail,” said Councilman Mike Duman, one of the members of the commission.

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The meeting was billed as an organizational meeting, so the four — which also included School Board member Linda Bouchard — hashed out matters such as the purpose of the commission, how ideas on issues to consider would be brought before the commission and how the commission would report its findings to the full City Council and School Board.

“Over the last four years since I’ve been on council, the budget process has been rather contentious,” Duman said. “We need to realize the money being spent all comes out of one big pot and try to identify savings that could be garnered by the two entities working together truly in the spirit of cooperation toward a common goal.”

Duman said he wants the group to focus on big issues where it can save big money.

“I want to tackle hundreds of thousands of dollars issues, and millions of dollars issues,” he said.

The board also agreed to tackle issues everyone agrees on first, in order to produce positive results early.

The school superintendent and city manager should be asked for their input, even though they’re not technically members of the commission.

“If they both have a concern on their list, obviously that’s something we should look at,” Duman said.

Findings should be reported back to the full bodies and staff members, they said.

The members also agreed on things that shouldn’t happen.

“We are not here for the school system to say to City Council, ‘You’re not giving us enough money,’” Bouchard said. “We are here to gather facts and find areas where maybe we could both save money.”

Bouchard added later, “Under no circumstances will we ever recommend raising taxes.”

Brooks-Buck said the committee should look at “not just moving money around or shifting it from place to place, but looking at real savings.”

Brooks-Buck also said it concerned her that the finance directors would be included without their bosses’ input, even while their bosses might be sitting in the same room, as their meetings are public.

“Asking the staff and not going through the proper people causes some consternation for me,” she said. “We are stepping over to get people who are under.”

But Duman believes the finance directors need to be in the room to give information.

“It would be strictly asking for facts,” Bouchard chipped in. “We don’t intend to get into opinions, because that would be improper.”

A handful of money-saving ideas were shifted around, but none were discussed in detail. They included looking at energy performance, the school system going after more grants and the oft-repeated preference of at least some members of City Council that city staff be in charge of building schools.