Guest Editorial by Steve Conaway
Response to Trinka Reynolds October 11, 2012 Letter to Editor

Trinka Reynolds states that when Washburn and Brooks were elected in 2008 there was $2 million in reserves, but no one could find where it went. What she means is that Washburn, Brooks and Walker could not find where it went. You want to know why? In 2008 after Washburn and Brooks were elected the City Manager chose to work elsewhere, the Finance Director promptly retired and the City’s independent audit firm was axed. They then proceeded to hire an out of town interim City Manager (Larry Pennell), an out of town interim Finance Director (John Wooner), a new auditing firm and they completely revised the budget format. “The budget is too difficult to read” they said. Talk about a perfect storm! Based on this storm of mass confusion, on July 28, 2009 Pennell stated that in order to balance the General Fund budget he would need to cut $1.9 million. Pennell never produced the $1.9 million in cuts that he said were needed to balance the budget. In fact, the budget that Pennell presented to the City Council just a month later on August 25, 2009 and that Washburn, Brooks and Washburn adopted was $2.6 million greater than the General Fund budget of the prior year. So in less than a month the budget went from needing $1.9 million in cuts to an increase from the prior year’s budget of over $2.6 million.

The 2008/09 independent audit report prepared by the new auditing firm, hired by the council, reported the General Fund budget for FY2008/09 prepared by City Manager Tom Ristau and Finance Direct Barbara Smith was balanced and ended the year with a $2,282,374 INCREASE in General Fund Reserves resulting in a general fund ending balance of $5,505,113. Mayor Walker confirmed that the Ristau/Smith budget was in good shape when she stated in a January 4, 2009 article in the Ventura County Star: “Fillmore’s fiscal outlook in the face of the global economic downturn is a healthy one, city officials said. The city has been very conservative with its budgeting, and as a result it has healthy reserves it can tap into if need be, said Mayor Patti Walker. ‘We are flush,’ Walker said.” Fillmore Finance Director Barbara Smith said the city has $1.8 million in reserves, “and for a small town like Fillmore, that’s quite a bit of money.”

The news was not so good a year after Washburn and Brooks were elected. Based upon the 2009/10 independent audit report prepared by the same accounting firm reported the General Fund budget for FY2009/10 prepared by interim City Manager Larry Pennell and interim Finance Direct John Wooner, approved by Washburn, Brooks and Walker, was OUT of balance by $4,502,913$2 resulting in a $2,410,323 DECREASE in General Fund Reserves.

It is also interesting to note that in November, 2011 the Washburn, Brooks, Walker led City Council adopted a City Ordinance (Ordinance 11-831) stating that “the City Council has maintained balanced budgets with healthy general fund reserves for over 10 years despite losing millions of dollars in State budget takeaways over that same time period”.

The city has now looking for its 5th Finance Director in less than 4 years. Enough of the madness, we can’t afford to go down this road again. A stable city hall won’t be possible until we have a stable city council. It’s time for change and time to stop trying to rewrite history.
Steve Conaway