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Tossing a lifesaver to a city committee

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Posted: Saturday, November 20, 2010 6:30 am

The City Council voted this week not to vaporize its Budget and Finance Committee. Good call.

Especially during these financially worrisome times, it's useful to have a variety of eyes and minds trained on the city's budget.

True, the committee hasn't had an especially clear roadmap in the past. Also true: Some members think the council doesn't give much credence to the group or its recommendations.

That's a near-universal lament among members of city commissions and committees, but it may also be true.

How can the group be more relevant?

We like Councilman Bob Johnson's offer to act as a committee liaison. If the council, through Johnson, can help guide the committee's work, and stay up to date with it, that's a big step.

We'd also toss out a suggestion: In a digital age, wouldn't it be possible — and quite useful — to make the city's finances more transparent? Could, say, the city's overtime totals by department over several years be presented in a visual and comparative way? Could that be made available to both the committee and the community at large? (If we could help out, either in print or through our website, we'd be happy to do so.)

We suggested some time ago that the city create a sunshine and transparency task force. That hasn't emerged as a priority, and we understand city leaders have many competing challenges.

Even so, with some smart analyses, creative thinking, and the magic of Power Point, perhaps the entire community, in a way, could become a budget review committee.

So it could be that this reenergized group could do something quite rare and quite valuable: Educate the general citizenry on matters of city finance.

Finally, we sense that some city leaders may see the committee as more of a burden than a blessing. A bur in the municipal saddle, if you will.

Resident Mike Carouba made a fair point at this week's meeting, though. The purpose of the committee is not to give comfort to those in City Hall, but to serve the public.

So we applaud the council for tossing a lifesaver to a committee it could easily have let go under.

With a bit of tuning, this committee should help the city be more efficient and frugal during a fiscal era when it clearly needs to be both.

— The Lodi News-Sentinel

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