Opinion Your Views — 27 February 2012
Alicia Hughes responds to allegations her voice is absent from budget talks

To the editor:           

Susan Kellom wrote a letter to the editor last week entitled “Hughes’ voice missing on city’s budget.” The title is catchy, but the implications of the allegation are inaccurate. It is true that I have not made a formal appointment to the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee in 16 months. So what? That’s my prerogative as a member of the Alexandria City Council.

According to Ms. Kellom, BFAAC’s budget analysis and yearly report are major vehicles for resident involvement in the budget process. The sound bite implies that members of the public are lining up at BFAAC public hearings to opine on recommendations to give to the council on the budget and budget guidance to the city manager. Untrue.

While I appreciate BFAAC’s report, work and my representative’s role as a personal advisor on the budget, BFAAC does not control or dictate our budget process, and council hears directly from the public through written communications, in person and at our public hearings. We do so as members of the city council. And we each avail ourselves to meet with the city manager and chief financial officer to discuss budget concerns … unfiltered.

Ms. Kellom is entitled to her personal opinion, but she is no more poised to tell me how to run my office as a city councilwoman, including my appointments, than I was to advise her on how to run her affairs as the chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, a position that after my election found members of her organization calling publicly for her resignation.

When Ms. Kellom publicly insists that a fellow council colleague of mine, a Democrat, who went without a paid council aide for 10 months and went for months without a BFAAC representative, owes the public an explanation, then maybe I can take her seriously as an objective concerned citizen.

The fallacy in Ms. Kellom’s opinion is that my voice is missing in the budget process. While not always agreeing, citizens of Alexandria have heard me loud and clear. My voice was loud enough in May 2010 when I questioned a recurring $30 million line item and the council took a hard look on dollars spent on contractual services and consulting. It took more than a year for staff, working with BFAAC, and my former representative Matt Tallmer, a 15-year BFAAC veteran, leading the charge to sort out what was being spent. Unsurprisingly, given the media coverage and attention to the matter, everything budgeted in that line item was not spent and we even had a budget surplus. And that is but one example.

 - Alicia Hughes, Alexandria city councilwoman

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Alexandria Times Staff

(2) Readers Comments

  1. Ms. Hughes,
    I don’t think they heard you.

  2. I have issues with what Ms. Hughes says about her failure to appoint a representative on BFAAC. As a 6 year former member of that group, and one who served when Matt Tallmer was her representative, I have these comments:

    First, people do not generally line up to be a member of BFAAC. Members of the Committee, thru informal conversations, do develop names of interested citizens for a position on the committee. BFAAC is made up of citizen reps appointed by Council, Chamber of Commerce reps, Council and Mayoral appointees. However, it is the job of a Councilperson, to find and appoint their representative. Not the other way around.

    Second, Ms Hughes said that” BFAAC does not control or dictate our budget process.” This is true. But BFAAC exerts an incredible amount of work to process many points of view producing a report that Council respects and relies on. Matt represented Ms. Hughes views in the Committee well. That is missing now, and her input is devoid of being discussed in building the report. That environment is tough, thorough and provides a forum for processing all the “unfiltered” input mention by Ms. Hughes when said “and council hears directly from the public through written communications, in person and at our public hearings.” It appears that her point of view is why have BFAAC since I she can rely on all of the other inputs directly to form her opinions.

    Third, Ms. Hughes takes credit for putting focus on a $30 million line item which was accomplished by “It took more than a year for staff, working with BFAAC, with my then-representative Matt Tallmer, a 15-year BFAAC veteran, leading the charge on the committee and working with staff, to sort out what was being spent”. That sounds like it required having a rep to accomplish that. So, doesn’t that speak for having a rep on the Committee?

    Last, Matt indicated that he resigned because he was he was “burned out”, and that he informed Ms. Hughes he would only work for her that year. Ms. Hughes has had ample notice, and time, to find his replacement.

    BFAAC provides an essential piece to the City’s budget process. Ms. Hughes’s unwillingness to designate a rep weakens that process. As Matt said, “burned out”. BFAAC needs each representative on board. I sincerely recommend that Ms. Hughes provide BFAAC with a representative both for getting her viewpoints into the discussion, and to providing another body to help share the load.

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