Despite a bitter internal feud, no review of the Aberdeen Police Department is needed. Despite being severely fined and penalized in the past, the city should once again pursue sucking more water from Deer Creek. Despite its being in day-to-day control of the city’s multi-million dollar budget, direct observation of the day-to-day operation of the city’s Finance Department is needed.
These are just a few of the highlights from a report on the City of Aberdeen’s operation and health, as conducted by the 28-member Transition Team formed to help new Mayor Mike Bennett transition into office.
The report was unveiled to the public Monday night – nearly three months after Bennett’s November election to office. Put another way, one-eighth of Bennett’s two-year term in office has already been spent compiling this report and it will probably take the remaining seven-eighths of his term to implement its recommendations.
Seated behind the dais next to the rest of the city council Monday, Art Helton – a former state senator and local businessman who initiated and supported Bennett’s run for mayor and was later charged with helming the Transition Team – unveiled the report to a crowd of about 35 people, mostly comprised of Transition Team members and city hall regulars.
Helton said hundreds of hours had been spent compiling the report and he estimated it would have cost $100,000 to hire someone to conduct a similar study and produce a similar report. Helmed by Helton, the transition team, of course, conducted its work pro bono – or at least it didn’t charge any money from the city for its work.
I had a problem with Heltons’ boasting about the money the city saved on the report by getting the document done by in-house volunteers. The thing reads like, and essentially is, an audit of citywide operations. And the thing about audits, as everyone knows, is that they HAVE to be done by a disinterested, unconflicted third party entity. That’s just common sense. You don’t want the city auditing itself and in the case of the Transition Team you are as close as you can get to that.
I’ll beat Art to the punch here and admit, yes, he did go out of his way to find and recruit people from outside of the city to participate, but if you run down the list of Transition Team members again, you’ll find more familiar Aberdeen names than disinterested, unconflicted third party members.
Anyhow, without further ado, here are some items of interest I found in the report (which I quote directly from the document) – accompanied by my own personal take on each offering:
Quote: “The transition team was initially charged with reviewing the processes and procedures used within the Aberdeen Police Department. Upon reflection by Mayor Bennett, it was decided to forego that review at this time. Since Mayor Bennett has 37 years experience including management positions in law enforcement he did not think the need for an extensive review was warranted. He felt comfortable with his knowledge and experience in this area.”
Comment: First off, despite what you might think, I didn’t make that quote up. It’s right from the report. And it’s unbelievable. Second, does this confirm the rumors we were all hearing that the Police Department Review Team did in fact disband and break up before it completed its review? Third, this sounds like an awful lot of responsibility Bennett is putting on himself. Not only does he now bear the burden of having a budget hung around his neck, but the mayor is essentially saying he will personally decide what needs to be done with the police department. And we all thought former mayor Fred Simmons ran the police department as defacto chief when he was in office.
Quote: “The Budget Review committee, which was charged with looking at the fiscal condition of the city, has reviewed fiscal year audits from 2004, 2005 and 2006, but has not had access to the last budget year 2007 because of an ongoing investigation by the state’s Special Prosecutor.”
Comment: Helton pointed out the 2007 audit was the first year of budgeting done by the Simmons administration. Former friends now turned bitter enemies, I bet Helton was salivating while waiting to get his hands on that 2007 audit and pour over it for any minor inconsistency he could blame on Simmons.
Quote: “The Ripken Stadium has lost between $495,000 and $590,000 (rounded) annually since 2004. This Team recommends that a volunteer task force be established to address the Ripken Stadium financial issueand identify three reasonable solutions to the Ripken Stadium financial issue.”
Comment: That’s fine. But doesn’t the city already have an appointed Ripken Stadium Management Board to sort of do that?
Quote: “Currently no formal job/position descriptions exist for positions in the Finance Department. For reasons too numerous to outline, it is imperative that position descriptions are drafted and adopted.
Comment: I wonder if one of those currently undescribed Finance Department positions belonged to Simmons’ business partner and former Aberdeen contractual accountant, Steve Wright.
Quote: “This Team believes that further research, including direct observation of the day to day operations of the City’s Finance Department, will lend more insight into improved operational procedures and internal control.”
Comment: Wow. Day-to-day monitoring of the Finance Department could turn into a full-time job for someone. Maybe Steve Wright is available to be contracted out for the position. Or Bennett could just move Simmons’ police surveillance cameras, which he seems to despise, from out on the streets and into the Finance Department in city hall.
Quote: “Record keeping within city government is a weak spot. A records retention program needs to be developed as per State of Maryland requirements.”
Comment: They might not be able to find a copy of the city’s lease agreement with Ripken Baseball or a legally signed copy of the final special referendum election annexation vote, but I’d be willing to bet copies of this Transition Team report will be floating around city hall for the next few decades.
Quote: “Planning Commission recommendations should be considered for acceptance by the City Council. Modifications by the council should be made in open session and made a matter of public record.”
Comment: Call me naive, but I always thought the purpose of the Aberdeen Planning Commission was to convene until the wee hours of the night taking the brunt of citizen ridicule and lawyer rhetoric so that the Mayor and City Council didn’t have to.
Quote: “Web Site – This is an area of concern. The site is not being updated on a regular basis. There is need for the city to provide consistent and timely updates on the web site.”
Comment: I think it’s safe to say there is a problem with Aberdeen’s web site when, with a click of a button, I can find Mayor Chuck Boutin’s Nov. 19 1996 report on the city’s economy to the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, but I can find neither a photograph nor biography for city councilwoman Ruth Ann Young.
Quote: “Revisit the [Susquehanna River Basin Commission] to up the water allocation from Deer Creek to [Aberdeen Proving Ground].
Comment: The last time Aberdeen took on the SRBC, I followed Mayor Doug Wilson and city attorney Don Brand up to Scranton, Pennsylvania – a three-and-a-half hour ride just to watch the water commission smack down the city officials who put up little more than a whimper. Wilson and Brand didn’t survive long in public office after that. My bet would be neither will anyone else who seriously tries to drink more water from Deer Creek.
Quote: “CNA identified several water source alternatives for the City of Aberdeen. Three may warrant further study:
1. Pump water from the Chesapeake By near Havre de Grace to the Chapel Hill Water Treatment Plant
2. Pump Susquehanna River water at the Deer Creek entrance to the raw water pump station at Deer Creek, then to Chapel Hill
3. Pump Baltimore City raw water to the Deer Creek pump station, then to Chapel Hill”
Comment: If these are the three best alternatives for Aberdeen to get water, it seems like we’re really grasping at straws at this point (ugh, pun entirely unintended). Suddenly, Simmons’ plan to drink sea water doesn’t seem all that unpalatable.
In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t stay for the whole presentation of the report. I didn’t stay for half of the presentation. All it took was for Joe Swisher, chair of the city’s planning commission and an all-around good guy, to announce that, out of himself and the other few members of the water and sewer review team, “none of us are water people.” I knew it was going to be a long night.
So I didn’t stay and maybe some of my questions and concerns were addressed. If so, please correct me or set me straight here. And if not, I sure hope they’re addressed as part of the Transition Team Report Implementation Period – or where ever Aberdeen goes from here.