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Newport City Councilor Sandra Roumagoux: Councilors should request information from the City Manager, not from department heads.

Newport City Council, Monday

It all started when City Councilor Dean Sawyer heard that there are some rather large city water and sewer customers who are way behind in their bills. And that one of them was a large hotel. Sawyer sent an email to city Finance Director David Marshall asking about the city’s policies on collecting on past due accounts. Sawyer said it isn’t fair that the city is proposing water and sewer rate increases if there are substantial past due accounts that are aren’t being paid.

The other councilors heard about the request and took it up as a city policy issue. They asked should individual city councilors have the right to request city staff to provide information on any part of city operations that takes more than two hours to produce. Later, Sawyer said he didn’t realize it would take two hours to pull up accounts that are seriously in arrears, especially one as large as the ones in question.

At any rate, City Councilor Sandra Roumagoux weighed in on the issue with a diagram that illustrated her feelings on the matter which are basically, “If you want information on any city operations, go through the city manager. That’s part of his job, to respond to inquiries by the city council.” Roumagoux said it’s become a habit that city councilors have been approaching department heads for information and that city staff have been approaching the council on various issues. Roumagoux reiterated that “it’s the city manager’s job to handle these sorts of things. It’s just good policy.”

As a footnote, recent surveys given to city employees and to the council itself revealed that there is, in the eyes of many, a lack of adequate communication, if not trust, between city administration and a number employees as well as a communications problem between several city councilors and the city manager.

Meanwhile, councilors said they could understand someone like Dean Sawyer, being a retired police officer, wanting to do an inquiry on his own, but that council rules dictate that questions of staff that require more than two hours to answer should be directed to the city manager. Again, Dean reported he didn’t think it would take two hours to come up with the information.

During the city council’s evening meeting, the matter again surfaced with a review of the noontime discourse, but with an added comment by Mayor Mark McConnell that it would be good policy that the city council be given reports about accounts receivable and who or what company hasn’t paid their water, sewer or any other bill they owe the city. That way everyone will know what’s not getting collected and then devise a way to collect it.

City Finance Director David Marshall said with the addition of new finance department software, that information will be readily available. But he added that the software is still being brought on line and staff is still learning it. “It’ll be a couple more months,” said Marshall, “but from then on, you’ll have it anytime you want.” Marshall told the council “There is a half a million dollars in unpaid fines, fees for service and other “receivables” that are still out there in the community, instead of in the city’s check book. Knowing exactly who owes what will help develop better collection strategies to get as much of the money owed into city coffers as soon as possible, thanks to the software.

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