I am writing in response to your editorial of March 8, 2011 (“Just gimme some truth”), and also in response to the embarrassing episode that was the March 14 Village council meeting. I want it to be clear that, as the Commissioner of Accounts and Finance, I spoke to Moody’s analyst Dennis Lam on March 1. We spoke candidly about his communications with the Village of Forest Park regarding Moody’s ratings report. On Dec. 27, 2010, Mr. Lam had a “ratings review call” with the mayor, the village administrator and two external consultants. The consultants were: Phil McKenna, the principal of Kane and McKenna and the Village’s TIF consultant; and a representative of Mesirow Financial. Mr. Lam made a point of asking the mayor whether there was anyone else from the village who should be included in the review, but was told no.
It was during our call that Mr. Lam was made aware that Forest Park has a finance director. He stated that the village finance director was the appropriate official to participate in the review process because she is responsible for the daily management of fiscal operations. Mr. Lam indicated that where, as in our village, elected officials hold part-time positions, and are not responsible for day-to-day operations, analysts generally work with professional staff. I am disappointed that the mayor used our finance director to portray himself as an honest steward of the village’s resources when it is clear that he withheld information from her that is integral to her job function.
The day after that ratings review call, on Dec. 28, Mesirow Financial sent the mayor an email confirming that Moody’s would downgrade the Village’s credit rating due to “four years running of negative fund balances in the general fund and no discernable policy in place to build fund balances”. Additionally, documents disclosed pursuant to a FOIA request after the Feb. 28 village council meeting show that the mayor, the village administrator, and the mayor’s assistant corresponded with Moody’s in preparation for the rating review call that occurred on Dec. 27. There was ample time to involve our Finance Director and other elected officials.
During last night’s council meeting the mayor repeatedly lauded staff, particularly department heads for their tireless work on behalf of the village. I agree that staff deserves credit for maintaining operations in line with policy set by elected officials. What I cannot understand is why our finance director was not included in more than one week of preparation for the rating review call with Moody’s. The exclusion of the finance director from such an important meeting was detrimental to employee morale; and the mayor has not explained why the finance director was never notified of the ratings downgrade by him or the administrator.
Elected officials have a duty to our constituents to be honest and forthcoming in all our dealings, good or bad. The fact that the village’s bond rating has been downgraded identifies a weakness and a challenge, but it can be remedied and overcome. This challenge, like others, should be addressed honestly and openly if it is going to be corrected. I think people can agree that we can’t fix a problem if we don’t acknowledge (or know) it exists. All of the commissioners elected by our village’s citizens, and the designated professionals whom the village employs, should be included in the process to address these challenges. Our citizens deserve nothing less.
Commissioner of Accounts and Finance