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Tacoma: City spokesman clarifies council members weren’t told details of questionable budget transfers

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on April 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm with No Comments »
April 2, 2012 6:09 pm

In response to The News Tribune’s story published Sunday about a questionable city budget maneuver, City of Tacoma spokesman Rob McNair-Huff this afternoon sought to clarify his comments about who authorized the apparently illegal transfers of public utilities funds into the city’s general fund three years ago.

The story noted that Tacoma Public Utilities officials recently discovered the bulk of questionable transfers and raised concerns about them to the city in January.  City Finance Director Bob Biles and his staff are still reviewing the matter, McNair-Huff has said. But preliminary findings have determined as much as $1.7 million may need to be repaid to city utilities, he said.

For Sunday’s story, I asked McNair-Huff who had authorized the budget transfers and accurately reported his response. Here’s what the story said:

Asked whether then-City Manager Eric Anderson or Biles authorized the transfers, McNair-Huff said: “Probably both. But I believe that the council was briefed about what was happening as well.”

Today, McNair-Huff said he was “frustrated in the way the quote from me was cast,” as some council members have raised concerns that his comments seem to indicate the council was made fully aware that utility funds were being diverted into the general fund.  (The use of utility funds for general government purposes is prohibited under state and city law.)

McNair-Huff added today he wanted to make it clear that the council likely was briefed only generally about internal services fund balance transfers during city budget presentations, but that council members were not told details about the funds or their sources.

“As I recall, you asked me who authorized the transfer and I said it would have probably been the city manager and finance director and that the council would have been informed as well,” McNair-Huff said today. “But the tricky thing is, the council may have been briefed about the transfers, but weren’t told of all the details.”

As the story also stated:

Councilman Jake Fey – the only council member to vote against Anderson’s controversial 2011-12 budget plan partly due to concerns raised by TPU – said he and other council members learned about the questionable budget transfers Monday.

“We were all kind of taken aback,” he said.

“We don’t really know yet how this happened or who’s responsible,” Fey added. “Somebody was either told to do it or somebody has made a mistake. But it needs to get corrected.”

McNair-Huff  also said today the city’s review of the questionable fund balance transfers remains ongoing.
“The bottom like is, a mistake was made and we’re going to fix it,” McNair-Huff said.  “Clearly, the council didn’t know that they were moving utility funds.”
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