Kanter and the Finance Committee:
Circumventing Addison’s Charter
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)
While Addison continues to conceal key documents relating to Larry Kanter, the documents they did produce validate many of the concerns about which I’ve written. We now have evidence of the willingness of Meier and his cadre to circumvent our Charter’s unequivocal prohibition against the council directing the day-to-day affairs of our Town. In this instance, the mechanism had two key components. First, by inserting Kanter into the mix, Meier and his group established a path to direct interaction with employees. Second, by establishing the Finance Committee and then placing supervision of Kanter at that level, they avoided the scrutiny of the council and the public. Let’s talk about it.
To start, we have a City Manager/Council form of government. That means that the council sets policy and that policy is carried out by the professional staff (not by the council). Our Charter is very specific in setting the boundaries of these roles:
- The City Manager is responsible for “administer[ing] the government of the Town.” Charter, §1.03.
- “[T]he Council shall deal with the administrative departments and personnel solely through the City Manager, and no member of the Council shall give directives to any subordinate of the City Manager, either publicly or privately.” Charter, §2.09 (emphasis added).
- The mayor “shall have no administrative duties.” Charter §2.06 (emphasis added).
These provisions make clear that Meier has “no administrative duties,” and that he cannot “give directives to any subordinate of the City Manager, either publicly or privately.” It has been clear to many of us for a long time that Meier has been unwilling to accept these limitations. During the past five years, and the last two in particular, we have seen meddling and micromanagement that is clearly inconsistent with our Charter, and unhealthy for our Town.
Here’s what I discovered in the documents I’ve reviewed. First, sometime prior to the 2014 election, Meier convinced the council to create a “Finance Committee” (despite hours of searching, I haven’t found information about this committee on Addison’s website). It appears that the meetings of the Finance Committee aren’t publicly noticed and there are no minutes to reflect its activities. I also found nothing to define its purpose or power. The initial committee consisted of Meier, his staunch ally Blake Clemens, and Chris DeFrancisco. They appointed three councilmembers because four is a quorum, which would have required public notices and meetings, i.e., transparency. Clearly, transparency wasn’t the point here. So, they kept it at three, with Meier and Clemens controlling the vote. That made DeFrancisco irrelevant.
Think about the issues such a setup creates. First, the council has oversight responsibility for the Town’s finances. That’s seven people. They need four to act. But here, it took only two votes to act. As well, the council had no visibility to the committee’s meetings. Oh sure, they received “reports” from time to time, but that meant that the council as a whole heard what Meier wanted them to hear, and no more. The same can be said for the public, which had no way of knowing what was happening at the Finance Committee. Add to all that the lack of parameters for the committee’s power, and it isn’t hard to conclude that its existence compromised important checks and balances that are inherent in requiring public discussions and four votes for action.
The whole thing was a carte blanche for Meier, and the lack of transparency made Kanter’s politically-motivated work possible. And of course, Kanter was the guy for the job. Consider that he was hired at Meier’s suggestion, and without any process. Addison never published a request for proposal, and defined no real work scope. Ultimately, we all witnessed Kanter’s willingness to abandon applicable AICPA standards of objectivity and impartiality in order to help Meier’s recent campaign. We watched Kanter do Meier’s bidding, wrongfully disparaging prior staff and management, telling an inflammatory, one-sided story. And of course, Meier did his part by ensuring the concealment of key documents that would refute Kanter’s claims. It was a political hatchet job from the start, and Kanter swung the axe on cue for Meier’s campaign.
Kanter also provided Meier with the access to the staff and daily operations that Meier craved. And, since his work was supervised and directed by the Finance Committee, Meier effectively gained some measure of operational control regarding the Town’s operations.
Presto. Circumvention of the Charter.
Let’s return now to the documents that confirm all this. On September 11, 2014, Kanter wrote an email to Meier, Clemens and DeFrancisco, describing a meeting he had with then-CFO Eric Cannon. Kanter informed the group that Cannon had offered employment to a candidate who was not a CPA, but who was still sitting for the CPA exam. The next day, Clemens replied all: “I thought we agreed that whomever Eric chooses that they have both a CPA certificate and a good level of experience (govt accounting experience is not a requirement).” 16 minutes later, Meier replied: “No Blake, that is exactly how I recall it. Do you think we need to have a Finance Committee meeting and include Lea [Dunn]?”
And there it is, in black and white: “I thought we agreed” and “that is exactly how I recall it.” They are directing who Cannon can and cannot hire, which is a clear violation of the Charter:
“[N]o member of the Council shall give directives to any subordinate of the City Manager, either publicly or privately.”
And here’s the other stunning part of this exchange: the Charter expressly requires the council to deal exclusively with the City Manager. And yet, here is Meier asking whether City Manager Lea Dunn should even be included in a proposed Finance Committee meeting to discuss who Eric Cannon is choosing to hire. They are clearly circumventing the Charter. And, by the way, how exactly was Lea Dunn ever supposed to do her job with this type of nonsense going on? They were undermining Lea at every turn. And, you see how Kanter caused such problems for Addison.
The documents also show what appears to be Meier reviewing and approving payment of at least one Kanter invoice. Here is Meier’s signature, circling the sum due and writing: “OK Todd Meier 5/26/14:”
Approving bills for Town consultants is not the job of the mayor or the council. Consider the lack of transparency and controls, as Meier approves the expenditure of our taxpayer money for Kanter’s politically-motivated work. Oh sure, the council set outside limits regarding how much could be spent, but who on the council was given the opportunity to examine the bills to see what it was that Kanter was actually doing at any point in time? How ironic, given Kanter’s many attacks on Addison’s processes, and his false claims of a lack of controls.
Here’s the last thing. I have talked often about Lea Dunn’s January 15, 2015, 19-page memo that Addison continues to conceal, and that I believe will refute Kanter’s inflammatory accusations. The information I’m now receiving is that Lea’s memo was sent to the Finance Committee, and it died there. It was not forwarded to the council, so councilmembers not on the Finance Committee didn’t hear Lea’s detailed perspective about all the problems Kanter was causing with the staff. It was just another manipulation by leadership determined to force Lea Dunn out.
And that’s exactly the problem with setting two or three people up to filter such politically-charged information: they make politically-motivated decisions. In this case, the decision to keep Lea Dunn’s memo under wraps was part of what made Kanter’s inflammatory, one-sided presentations possible in the first place.
To say that this isn’t transparency is an understatement. The Finance Committee was effectively a mini-council of sorts that directed Kanter’s work and, apparently, at least some work performed by Addison’s staff. In at least two instances, it appears that Meier and others circumvented our Charter and inserted themselves into the day-to-day workings of the Town. And here’s the thing: If that’s what’s in the documents Addison did produce, one can only imagine what’s in the documents Addison is fighting to conceal.
I am hopeful that the new council will pull back the veil of secrecy that now exists, including by releasing Lea Dunn’s memo and other documents responsive to my Open Records Act request. And, I’m hopeful that they will take appropriate steps to bring ALL business of our Town back to the entire council and thereby to the public. That’s what transparency is about, and I for one am looking forward to its return.