Council and Public Kept In Dark
A city that has experienced years of financial troubles is not in trouble for keeping its spending secret. The Register of Demands (AKA Payment of Warrants) is the list of monthly spending by the city that is almost routinely approved once a month by most all city councils. The city of Desert Hot Springs, with an annual budget of about $13 million, is keeping their city expenses secret.
There is no state law requiring any city to publish how they spend public money or for the city council to approve how city money is spent. That is left up to cities to do, either voluntarily or by statute in their Municipal Code.*
The rich city of Palm Springs south of the freeway adopted just such a provision in 1971; insuring their city council residents and city representatives know where their dollars go.
Across the freeway on the north side, the poor city of Desert Hot Springs has no such requirement; leaving city management an easy excuse to keep that city’s spending secret. City spending wasn’t always secret.
In times past the Desert Hot Springs city council, on a routine basis and up until about a year ago, not only voted monthly to approve their Register of Demands but the city also made copies available for the public that were distributed at council meetings. Many other cities do this – including every city in the Coachella Valley.
One Desert Hot Springs city council member is frustrated and becoming increasing concerned.
“I’ve asked to see the Register of Demands several times, not just in email but in open council meetings,” said Councilman Russell Betts. “It should only take a couple of minutes to print these things out and is something the public must have. This is not the way to run a business.”
At the last council meeting, during public comments, the subject came up again when retired accountant Marilyn Hindricks asked about the city’s missing Register of Demands. Betts in his comments asked again to see the Register and was joined by a second city council member expressing concern. Council member Jan Pye, who works as a financial analyst and is studying for her CPA, also asked to see city financial records.
“There is no state law requiring the city to publish the Register of Demands,” said Rick Daniels, city manager in response to the two council member’s request.
Numerous requests by this newspaper for specific financial documents have also been met with a determined silence by city management intent on keeping financial matters secret. The Public Records Act of the State of California does not allow any city or public agency to keep documents secret.
*Palm Springs Municipal Code (nearly identical language in Cathedral City Municipal Code) and Google search reveals over 22,000 results with agenda items or minutes recording consideration and/or approval of “Registry of Demands.”
3.16.070 Register of demands. Following audit of demands the director of finance and general services shall prepare a register of audited demands showing the claimant’s name, amount of demand, the warrant number and date thereof, and transmit said register to the city manager for his review, and presentation to the finance committee and the city council, with his approval or other report. (Ord. 906 § 2 (part), 1971: prior code § 1536)
3.16.080 City council approval. The register of demands shall be presented to the city council at the next regular meeting thereof. The city council may by resolution approve, conditionally or partially approve or reject such register of demands and in connection therewith consider the recommendations of the finance committee and the city manager. (Ord. 906 § 2 (part), 1971: prior code § 1537)
3.16.090 Record of approved demands. Following approval of the register of demands by the city council, the chairman of the finance committee and the city manager shall endorse the resolution approving the register of audited demands to signify there was proper processing of demands therein before the city council took action. (Ord. 906 § 2 (part), 1971: prior code § 1538)
Some cities recognize the concept in their City Charter it might be defined differently as “Warrant Register” or stated in the City Charter or otherwise in their Municipal Code.
INDIO: (B) “The Finance Director shall establish a schedule for the issuance of checks/warrants. In general terms, checks shall be issued on a weekly basis, and reported to the City Council as an information item on at the next regular meeting.”
In the Municipal Code of the city of Desert Hot Springs there is NOT ONE MENTION of the Register of Demands. The city of Bell, California also had no mention of the Registry of Demands or Payment of Warrants in their Municipal Code.