While the mayor says he wants to get to the bottom of why cost overruns forced the city budget to increase from $62 million to more than $64 million, others have said the "investigation" is a way for the mayor to politically distance himself from an increase in the city budget.
On March 28, the council approved $500,000 in emergency appropriations for workers' compensation payments, and on April 10, after hours of debate, a divided council passed another $1.3 million in emergency appropriations for items including an unanticipated increase in group health insurance, the costs of potential council runoff elections in June, and the cost of repairing a water leak at the public library.
Instead of $62 million, the city should have anticipated spending more than $64 million. The city must make up this money in the next fiscal year. Now Roberts is investigating why appropriations were needed so soon after the 2003 budget was passed.
"I have instructed our city auditors, Ernst & Young, and our corporation counsel for a thorough investigation into the FY 2003 municipal budget," said Roberts in a statement two weeks ago. "I am concerned as to why the city would need this appropriation less than six months after this budget was approved."
Roberts added, "I intend to fully investigate City Council allegations of a deliberate attempt to undermine the fiscal integrity of the city."
Tuesday, Roberts declined to say who was being investigated.
He said that he has been told that Ernest and Young has uncovered "substantial differences" between the "actual" budget numbers and those that were presented to City Council.
However, insiders have said that Roberts is looking at the city's acting chief financial officer, Michael Lenz, whom some have hinted is supporting an opposing side in the current council elections.
Lenz was Roberts' campaign manager during the 2001 mayoral race, but later broke to run against Roberts' candidate in the 4th Ward. Since then, Robert hired him to be the city's CFO. But it is unknown which side he supports in the current council election.
Last week, Lenz said, "I realize they're looking at me. I really don't think that's a secret anymore."
He added, "The mayor stated that he is investigating why it is necessary to pass an emergency appropriation so quickly after the budget. From the beginning I was consistent on the fact that this is a very, very tight budget. I also said that 'with a little care and good luck we would get through.' "
The budget is a document that is prepared by the city's CFO and business administrator (currently Robert Drasheff), and presented to the City Council by the mayor. The council is to introduce the budget, study it, make recommendations, and eventually vote to pass it.
A council majority voted to approve the original budget and to approve the emergency appropriations.
Lenz said that all of the city's directors have projected that they will spend their whole budget, which has left very little flexibility when it comes to possible line item transfers.
At the Monday, April 7 council meeting, Lenz and Councilman Michael Cricco got into a face-to-face arguing match. Thursday, Cricco said, "I've lost confidence in [Lenz]. I said it then, and I still believe it now, that he intentionally misled the council."
Cricco, who originally made a motion to table the appropriations on April 7, said that Lenz never informed the council that layoffs could be a possibility if they didn't approve the appropriations. After learning the layoffs were a possibility before the next meeting on April 10, Cricco changed his mind and decided to vote for the emergency appropriations April 10.
Lenz said that he never told Cricco at the April 7 meeting that layoffs could be a possibility because Cricco never asked him which choices they might have to make if they voted against the appropriations.
Cricco also had previously charged that Lenz is playing both sides. He alleged that Lenz is working as the city's CFO but at the same time is undermining the administration by presenting inflated appropriations in order to give the opposition an issue during the election season.
Lenz responded that he stands by the budget and that the appropriations were absolutely necessary.
He added that it is the council and the city's directors are the ones responsible for increases in spending, not him. "As CFO, I do not control spending," he said. "It is my job to identify spending that the directors have chosen and the City Council ratifies."
Lenz added that he has hired a lawyer because he fears that he "is being used as a political football."
Lenz said that he finds it some what suspicious that the city has not released a report yet. He believes the report is finished, but is not being released by the mayor before the election because, he said, it will exonerate him.
"I fear that it may take some time to release that report," Lenz said, "if it shows, as I expect, that my actions were completely proper."