It has been a tradition each year in Aberdeen for the city to honor its volunteers with a special night for them – a dinner, ceremony and awards presentation to say ‘Thank You’ to those who dedicate their time and energy to making Aberdeen a better place to live, work and do business.
That tradition was threatened last year when Aberdeen, in the midst of going bankrupt, could scarcely afford to put on the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner and, with the economic climate in the city unchanged, it looks like it’s in jeopardy again this year.
Aberdeen’s Volunteer Appreciation Dinner was scheduled for March 27 – scheduled by City Manager Doug Miller, who evidently proceeded with organizing a lavish, $13,000 event without consulting the Mayor and City Council or even determining from where in the city’s budget the money would come. The event was abruptly canceled this week when the City Council learned about the expensive engagement.
Let’s watch how the entire scenario unfolded in the following chain of emails made available to The Dagger.
In the first email, entitled ‘This and That,’ city manager Miller jots down a laundry list of Aberdeen to-do items, which casually includes finding a way to pass a budget amendment to pay for the lavish volunteer celebration:
From: Miller, Doug
To: Bennett, Michael E ; Mike Hiob ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; RON KUPFERMAN
Cc: Correll, Monica ; Lapinsky, Matthew ; Grover, Phyllis ; Hartman, Theresa ; Jack, Opiribo
Sent: Friday, February 15, 2008 9:01 AM
Subject: This and That; 2/14/08
- We are proceeding with the Volunteer Dinner. We will need to come to you with a $13,000 budget amendment as this event was not budgeted. We are assuming that this is OK since we have heard from most of you that you want this event. If you have a concern w/ the amendment, please get w/ me ASAP.
- A very old Ford Taurus assigned to PW Admin has died. This car is used by our engineering folks to inspect projects and handle citizen complaints. I’d like to re-assign the Jeep that Matt has to PW Admin and find money to get Matt another 4WD.
- The Mayor, Phyllis and I met w/ Beth Hendricks and Mary Chance of HaCo. Beth handles the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for the County. Harford County is an “entitlement” jurisdiction which means that it gets a set amount of CDBG funds that it can use as it wishes for CDBG eligible projects. We have the option of falling under the County and getting a set appropriation or entering the fray as a competitive jurisdiction. If we compete, we must submit each project to the State and compete against other jurisdictions for whatever pot of money that the State has at the time. There is potentially more money if we compete and are successful, but it is with far more work and risk. We will be asked at some point how we want to proceed w/ CDBG’s; I advise that we stay w/ the County.
- On the legislative front there is the normal flurry of activity in Annapolis. For us, there is a BRAC bill in the works which put more emphasize on Counties than municipalities; there is a hotel/motel tax bill; and there is a gang bill sponsored by Sen. Jacobs. Her bill would allow police agencies to seize property used in gang related activities.
Then, four days later, evidently after the City Council had time to check their inboxes and digest what was being asked of them, Miller sent out a second email, this one in more sober tones as he relays that the city will cancel the March 27 event.
Of greatest interest is the line that I’ve bolded, in which Miller essentially tells the Mayor and City Council how to lie to the volunteers and public to make it seem like a scheduling conflict and not “the concern over the price” was the reason behind calling off the dinner. Shame on you Doug Miller for “offering an excuse” to the city volunteers and us, the public:
From: Miller, Doug
To: email@example.com ; Mike Hiob ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; RON KUPFERMAN
Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 6:39 PM
Subject: Volunteer Dinner
Due to the concern over the price of the Volunteer Dinner, we will cancel that event for March 27th.
Invitations have already been sent out with specifics to location and menu. Since we have offered those details, it would be difficult to change venue, menu and program on that date.
We will offer the excuse that we have encountered scheduling difficulties and that a dinner and or event will be scheduled at a later date.
Before we embark on our subsequent effort; I will need to know: (1) what are my budget parameters, (2) what sort of gift (if any) do we want to give, and what cost limitations are there, (3) what sort of menu shall we offer.
It didn’t take long, about an hour-and-a-half, for the always verbose councilman Mike Hiob to weigh in with ideas to cut costs – like uninviting members of Bennett and Art Helton’s Transition Team:
From: Michael Hiob
To: email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; RON KUPFERMAN ; Miller, Doug ; RUTH ANN YOUNG
Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 8:03 PM
Subject: Re: Volunteer Dinner
Doug, et al.,
I fully endorse the decision to cancel / postpone at this time. Regarding the invitations that have already been sent, I would suggest that they were sent prematurely. Let’s get our heads together regarding the follow up attempt. We need to answer questions 1-3 as well as 4. (4 would be….WHO we are inviting and who are we paying for?) I think that we should reconsider inviting the transition team AND paying for each volunteer’s guest. (This would help keep the cost down considerably) The regular volunteers dedicate their time all year. This dinner is designed as their thank you. I think is is unfair if the temporary transition team is invited. Remember, it is OUR taxes that are covering this event, and contrary to what some might believe, we don’t have a “champagne budget”. In fact, the City didn’t even offer a Volunteer Appreciation dinner last year due to budgetary constraints!
As Always…Just My Honest Thoughts,
Then, a full 17 hours AFTER city manager Miller announced the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner was being canceled, Mayor Bennett checked in with his two-cents – including a proclamation he was calling off the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner right then and there:
From: Bennett, Michael E
To: Michael Hiob ; email@example.com ; RON KUPFERMAN ; Miller, Doug ; RUTH ANN YOUNG
Sent: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 11:25 AM
Subject: Re: Volunteer Dinner
I think that we whould wait until late spring (when it is warmer) and have a picnic, maybe we can afford that. If the “temporary transition team” should not be invited, that is ok, but don’t minimize the amount of work they accomplished for the City in a very short timeframe. I disagree with charging a spouse of a volunteer, after all they are making a sacrifice by giving up time for the volunteer to work for the City. Lastly, remember we all thought that a volunteer dinner was appropriate but no one including me gave any parameters to the City Manager and his staff on what we wanted. I am instructing the City Manager via this email to cancel this event at this time. We may want to revisit once budget is put together.
Michael E. Bennett, Lt.,Ret.
Electronic Systems Division
Maryland State Police
Finally, Hiob responded via email to Bennett directly and questioned why Miller even bothered to inform the City Council, as the event had already been planned and the invitations printed and mailed, and why Miller didn’t have a rough idea of what the last volunteer dinner cost (I understand it was less than $3,000 and was hosted by Sam Smedley at his Wetlands Golf Course):
From: Michael Hiob [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 2:53 PM
To: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Re: Volunteer Dinner
Doug should have known an approximate starting parameter due to the fact that he approved the check to pay for the last Volunteer Appreciation Event.
Not only that, he should have checked with ALL of us before attempting
something of this “budget affecting” magnatude. His email soliciting our
opinions went out on Friday, and I contacted both of you on Saturday to set
up our Monday meeting. Why solicit our opinions, when the plans were already made and the invitations sent!? In reality, we didn’t have the opportunity to respond to Doug’s solicitation.
My opinion remains the same regarding the transition team. This event has
always been for our annual volunteers that serve year round on committees
that are for the most part “chartered”.
My opinoin also remains the same regarding The City paying for a spouse (or
date) to attend with each volunteer. In the past, the cost had been minimal
(around $22.00), and I would pay for Barb to attend with me. Also, I am
against the gift idea. It would probably go unused and therefore would
become a dust collector. Remember, these are “VOLUNTEERS”. They do it
because they want to, not for a dinner or some trivial gift. I served for
MANY years and I was very grateful just to get together with my fellow
volunteers for a relaxing evening, good food and conversation. I know that
we can do a nice event in a location with “atmosphere”, without spending
anywhere near the amount of money that was proposed to be spent. Why try to “fix” something that isn’t “broke”?
So there you have it. The dinner was arranged, scheduled and advertised before Miller finally decided to ask around for the $13,000 needed to put on the party.
Now the event is canceled and who knows what the volunteers will end up with – aside from the embarrassment of having to own up to spending their priceless time and effort volunteering for a city that can’t even plan a dinner without getting in its own way.