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City Council member Robin Lumb supports creating and funding an Office of Inspector General
Jax Daily Record Friday, Aug. 15, 201412:00 PM EST

Ethics Office gets additional $50,000; pension fund tests council's patience

by: David Chapman

The City Council Finance Committee has held fast in its decisions of holding the line on new employees and spending.

On Thursday, there was some variance.

The Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight had requested an extra $50,000 for part-time hours for an Inspector General. The boost would help bring aboard a certified person short-term to help review cases for city waste, fraud and abuse.

Unlike other slashed increases, that money remains.

“This city desperately needs an independent Office of Inspector General,” said council member Robin Lumb, who attended Thursday’s meeting to lobby for the effort.

Ethics Officer Carla Miller told the group that the State Attorney’s Office would provide a match from its budget, which at a minimum could establish the framework of the office for future funding.

A bill currently in council committees would fund the office at $400,000, enough to hire a full-time inspector general and staff. That bill has nine council members attached as sponsors or co-sponsors and was mentioned in passing Thursday but not acted on.

Council member Matt Schellenberg, one of those co-sponsors, said while the $400,000 funding seemed like a lot, the new office could find substantial amounts of money through its work.

Elsewhere in the budget, there was again frustration among members when dealing with the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

In past years, the committee has questioned administrative costs along with money management and legal costs. How much the committee can change the fund’s budget has been the subject of legal opinions, with the fund able to maintain it is an independent group. When the committee has changed the budget, the fund’s board makes up the money elsewhere.

That hasn’t set well with council members, who still review it every year.

The fund’s budget this year includes the hiring of a media specialist for $30,000. Schellenberg also voiced concern over $11.5 million slated for money managers and another $270,000 for pension portfolio consultants. Both are part of the $12 million in other operating expenses.

Council member Lori Boyer had a perception concern. She didn’t want to ratify the fund’s budget if the group wasn’t allowed to make actual changes.

But, before any lengthy debate started, the committee voted to move the pension fund’s budget below the line. That means it will revisit the issue later in the budget review, possibly after a pension discussion in September.

After three meetings, committee Chair Richard Clark said the group is moving in the right direction.

He said an almost $20 million hole at the start that included an additional pension contribution and overstated revenue have been tackled. Now, the group is whittling away the $37 million Brown included in his budget that came from one-time spending from reserves and other areas.

The group meets again today for a half-day, with the focus being the Capital Improvement Plan.

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