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Wednesday, May 9,2012

Penny pinching

City Councilwoman Jody Washington promises to continue her no-votes on spending office-holder account funds, citing tough economic times.

by Andy Balaskovitz

Using City Council expense accounts for sponsorships, events and advertising is a fairly regular business item on Council agendas. It’s also fairly regular that the resolutions pass unanimously.

But 1st Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington is changing that. Washington vows to “always vote no” whenever Council funding for local events, advertisements and the like come up — even in cases where the funding would cost less than $13 per member to sponsor. 

“We don’t have a lot of money right now,” she said, referring to city operations. “I know it’s only a drop in the bucket. It’s perception as much as anything else. I’m supportive of all of those organizations, but we really need to tighten our belts. We’re in a budget shortfall.”

This fiscal year, the Council took a $14,000 cut in such spending. Third Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson, who was Council president last budget cycle, has cited “budget constraints” as the reason for doing so. 

Washington said she’d “just as soon turn it into the General Fund at the end of the year.” Technically, that’s the only time a Council member could do it, Lansing Internal Auditor Arnie Yerxa said. While Council members can’t move their expense account funds to, say, help other areas of the budget, any of the unused money reverts to the General Fund at the end of the year. He said Council members could use the money for other purposes, too, such as helping run their Council office operations or hosting meetings.

Washington said she hasn’t “seen any reason yet” for using the money. “I think it’s fine if the rest of them use it,” she said of her Council colleagues.

At the end of the Council’s April 23 meeting, Washington requested to amend a resolution approved earlier in the night for a $100 advertisement in an event booklet for the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club. All members would have paid $12.50 each from the expenditure accounts, but the amended resolution (after Washington withdrew her support) had the seven members besides Washington pay a little more than $14 each. The week before, a similar situation happened when Washington was against placing a $100 ad in the 30th Anniversary Souvenir Journal of Jack & Jill of America, Inc.

The latest instance happened Monday night, when a resolution to support the Rhama Word House’s May 4 “A Night of Love — Giving from the Heart” event died in Committee of the Whole. The resolution needed five votes to make it before the full Council. It failed 4-1, with Washington voting against. Council members Carol Wood, Brian Jeffries, Tina Houghton and Jessica Yorko supported it. Robinson said she was out in the hall on the phone with a constituent during the vote.

The Rhama Word House is a transitional home for women coming out of prison, jail or treatment facilities and helps integrate them back into society.

“I think we are fulfilling our purpose,” Robinson said, when Council gives to local events and groups and couldn’t think of a time in her four-plus years on Council when she opposed a particular cause.

“Unfortunately the one that was just killed, I felt horrible about. That is a program a woman has sunk her life into,” Robinson said.

But the Rhama Word House’s event may still get Council support to offset the costs of putting it on, even after it happened. It’ll be reconsidered at its next meeting, Robinson said: “I am going to personally bring that back.”

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