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Breaking Budget Customs

 

The city budget book is out – Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s operating budget proposal – in color.

It’s on the City of Memphis website and here is a link.

Give it a look now because once the City Council budget committee gets into hearings that start April 26, it is expected to change substantially.

That is one thing Wharton and many on the council agree on.

There was a bit of drama in Wharton’s annual budget presentation to the council. Put this under the heading of some blog posts we’ve done periodically about our political culture. We’ve talked specifically about that part of the culture that deals with public presentations and assemblies that at times can seem entirely too ceremonial, too time consuming and too bound to customs that once were more relevant.

The budget address is required by the city charter. It is a time when the mayor assembles his division directors in the front rows of the council chambers and talks about his plans for the coming fiscal year. There are usually some dollar amounts that come with descriptions of how the money will be used and where it comes from.

And when the mayor finishes, he usually gets the first reviews and some questions from several council members. The comments are usually a mix of praise for the administration and an indication of the budget areas some council members will focus on once the budget hearings begin. It’s also par for the course for the mayor to hear some criticism or questioning of his priorities.

Mayor Willie Herenton, during his 17 years as the city’s chief executive, always tried to keep the exchanges at this point in the process short. But he would take a few comments and questions and if a council member was more pointed, Herenton would respond in kind.

Since becoming Mayor in 2009, Wharton has been more conciliatory saying council concerns would be addressed during budget hearings.

But this week, Wharton took a different approach. His budget message was concise and general. There was no specific mention of the 28-cent tax rate hike/tax hike.

And at the end, as council members began seeking recognition from council chairman Edmund Ford Jr., Wharton left the council chamber.

He met in his upstairs conference room a bit later with reporters as the council session downstairs continued.

Some on the council were upset. Council member Harold Collins saw it as disrespectful.

Wharton said he thought the exchanges have led to “fragmented information” and “trying to make a budget on sound bites and scoring points.”

Council budget committee chairman Jim Strickland, who will lead the coming budget sessions and review, didn’t attach much significance to the change.

“I thought it was odd that he just walked out,” he said after the council session. “I don’t think it portends anything for the future.”

 

Dansette

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