Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Metro Finance talking points against Parks derailed

The attempts at the courthouse and in the mainstream media to make Metro Parks and Recreation a pariah, in spite of the fact that budget overages occur in other Metro departments, look like they are coming apart at the seams. One does not have to be a fan of the way Director Roy Wilson has run the Parks to acknowledge the dishonesty of Metro Finance holding his department to a stricter budget standard than they do other agencies.

And Rich Riebeling's rationale that Parks' problem was not that they were over budget, but that that they did not keep his office apprised of the overages was contradicted by a Tennessean story yesterday:
Wilson said Mayor Karl Dean's administration knew about his budget problems months ago and even directed him to keep open the park facilities that contributed to the overages ....

E-mail records obtained by The Tennessean show that officials in Dean's administration knew about the department's budget issues in April, when a Parks staffer expressed the need for an emergency appropriation to make ends meet ....

In a series of e-mails April 1 and 2, Parks Assistant Director James Gray told the Finance Department that Parks needed a supplemental appropriation of $501,000 to balance its budget.

The Finance Department responded by demanding an explanation for why Parks not only missed its savings target, but also needed an emergency appropriation.

That appeared to contradict an assertion made earlier by Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling who has indicated there was a lack of communication between Wilson and the Finance Department about the overrun.

So, Riebeling could have dealt with this last April instead of waiting until October to make a spectacle of problems that could cost Nashvillians park programming.

Between you and me, I wonder if this whole sorry episode of tying Wilson to the courthouse whipping post for sins that other department heads commit was orchestrated to take attention away from months of criticism that Metro Finance was getting over budget overages and fiscal challenges of the proposed convention center. If that was the case, it seems to have backfired with a late-breaking press finally excavating damning correspondence, instead of letting Gail Kerr frame the debate for the Mayor's Office.

Here's the Tennessean's video coverage of the council committee meeting last night on Parks overages. You're in for a treat at the end, as Roy Wilson finally gets his chance to go toe-to-toe publicly with Rich Riebeling, who seems both smug and rattled by the charge that his department once approved what they now question:

UPDATE: The embedded video above was a Gannett production, and as with most things in the Tennessean (except advertising and those annoying "free" Wednesday paper deliveries) it seems to have either gone behind their pay wall or been wiped from the website all together.

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