The hard press to avoid answering questions about the money--to state it plainly--ranged from
- Demands for a personal appearance at Police Headquarters to
- Release of what seems like a specially-concocted Excel sheet of dollar amounts to
- Complete City-wide silence on the whole matter
Demands to come to Police Headquarters were first explained “to set up a time that you can come down to Police Headquarters to pick up this information.” The Captain wanted to meet and talk. When it was pointed out that this would be a completely unnecessary use of high-ranking Police and civilian time in order to accomplish e-mailing a few sheets of information, Police pressed further. Requesting citizen asked “Do you have any concerns?” about the request. None were stated. None were expected, since the request had been clarified with the appropriate Finance personnel the week before… Eventually, this agreed-upon desire not to waste time has been filled with many other delays, misdirects, excuses, and what feels like outright intimidation toward the citizen requesting the information.
Later, the same Captain Brian Cunningham of the Office of the Chief, Public Affairs, and others claimed to be so confused by the information which includes basic operating “money in” and “money out” for the Police Department that they demanded a sit-down conversation with the requester in order to proceed. Reading the request and the many additional contacts supplied as police continued to ask questions in seeming delay tactics, and knowing that the entire thing had been crystal clear with Mr. Crystal in CMPD’s Finance division via a phone conversation the week before the first written request... well, none of their rationales make sense. In fact lawyers were called in to claim that the numerous unnecessary e-mails generated by CMPD then constituted a valid reason to deny the information because the writer “has not agreed to sit down with CMPD representatives…” Outrageous.
If the City and/or CMPD sincerely does not know all the Asset & Forfeiture (like drug money seizures), Grants, Operating Budget, and any other possible sources of income to the CMPD, then there is a problem in our City Leadership. If they don’t know how the CMPD is spending all that money, then there is a huge problem.
Continuing to support the Department in keeping books closed to public view is contrary to the reason for the public records law, which is purposefully spelled out in the City Council Code of Ethics.
Some Explaining to Do?
Why is the Public Affairs Captain in the Office of the Chief of Police intervening in a public request to see the “books?” Is there something unpleasant there? When asked two separate times if one Excel sheet sent by Captain Cunningham was made solely for the request, there was no response. If Captain Cunningham’s data was accurate, then someone has some explaining to do:
On the heels of Chief Monroe’s controversial promotions to some upper-level employees (see previous post here ), followed by a letter sent from Chief Monroe to staff explaining lump-sum payments to CMPD staff of 1% of annual compensation, out of the City’s surplus. Monroe says he “wishes there were more to be given.” ( See letter here )
Captain Cunningham reported that the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget contains $175,945,041 for Personal Expenses. How would those expenses break down? Personal Shoppers? Personal Chefs? Personal Security? More trips out of town? Another new car for the Chief (that’s probably not considered a personal expense, but maybe we should check on that, too)? Or do you think it’s more likely Captain Cunningham’s numbers were not the correct ones?
And there’s the Blue Hornets baseball team:
Citynewswatch only found out about possible issues with the CMPD baseball team, the Blue Hornets, by reading Cedarposts.blogspot.com, a place where you will find lots of fascinating information on many topics, including the operations of the police. It’s also another place you will find extremely supportive of the majority of CMPD men and women doing the hard and often dangerous work on the streets of Charlotte to keep us safe. Some of these officers spend much of their own time and I’m sure some of their own money to participate in the team. I believe the player’s intentions are great and have produced some good outcomes, ranging from fellowship and exercise to visibility to some donations made to a couple of Charities. Speaking with the director of the only receiving charity listed on the site, however, she stated she had never seen any accounting of the financials of the organization—only received a check from the team’s efforts.
The web site for the team stated that no tax-payer funds are used for the team, that players pay for their own uniforms, and that there are some donors. The site also says that the team raises money for Charities. There have been some slight changes to the site in recent days.
These questions were sent to Major Paul Zinkann, listed as the contact and a member of the Board of Directors (no other Members of the Board are listed):
Are Asset and Forfeiture monies used for the team? Are Grant monies used for the team? Are any other public funds that may not be considered "tax-payer funds" used for the team? Who are the donors? How much do they donate? What are the funds used for? What are all the expenses for the team? How much has been donated to charity? Which charities have received funds? How much? All of this information should be on a Board of Directors Annual report already available. Is that correct?
No answers have been received with any dollar amounts or details during the past month of inquiries. Captain Cunningham replied only in this way (after two weeks of working on an answer):
“Some local businesses and private citizens have supported the team. Other than that the players have paid their own way to be members of the team. The only other funding source for the Blue Hornets baseball team was the purchase of their uniforms from the CMPD General Fund operating budget.” (Editor's note: The web site and published articles formerly stated that team members paid for their own uniforms)
The web site continues to reference a Board of Directors, but no names are supplied. It says to contact Paul Zinkann for details, but Captain Zinkann won’t answer the questions from above for weeks. Though the CMPD will not answer any questions that include dollar amounts or give any response beyond what is quoted above, editorial staff of Citynewswatch has researched the Great Balls of Fire foundation listed as the place to make donations. IRS 990 filings show the corporation to have a current Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Officer as President, and also show hundreds of thousands of dollars of indirect depreciation listed under “election to expense certain property” on form 4562. There is no explanation for what that property is. The officer’s name is being withheld temporarily until he personally has an opportunity to comment on this specific issue. Maybe there is some property associated with the charity? Is there more than just the baseball team associated with Great Balls of Fire? There is no way to tell from the available paperwork, and CMPD has refused to tell anything about it.
1% lump sum compensation given to CMPD Staff
These questions were posed to City Finance, but they wouldn’t answer, and said Capt. Cunningham would “coordinate” a response for all the information, while at the same time indicating no response at all was forthcoming…
1) The Chief has sent a letter to the CMPD staff explaining that there was a 1% lump sum compensation one-time payment given to employees out of a surplus from the City of Charlotte operating budget. Would you please tell me how much money that is in total? I assume that is easily known since it's already paid out at one time as bonus amounts which were calculated as a split among employees.
2) Also, was that the only option available to the City on the method to pay it out? (i.e., could they have paid it as a health care cost reduction or raise or some other way with that would have resulted in a lower tax impact for employees?)
3) Did the upper-level CMPD employees who had already just received raises also receive this 1% lump sum compensation?
Keith Richardson in Charlotte’s Corporate Communications Department—with acquiescence from Mayor, Council, City Manager, and the Chief’s Office—state that refusal to answer these and all questions in this post are in compliance with Public Records Law.
I don’t want to see anything that has been “coordinated” or delayed any longer. I just want to see the books. Please write to Council, the Mayor, and City Manager Curt Walton to demand that full financial information regarding the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department is released immediately.
Please tell them not to allow the Police Chief or any of his representatives to demand that anyone produce themselves in person or require personal information when asking about any operation of the Police Department that may tend to be controversial. Please tell them to instruct the other appropriate departments—Finance and others, in this case—to give information when requested. Please tell them to quit making up provisions in the Public Records Law. We have a right to know.
If they would like to be efficient, they can send information to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll post it here for everyone to review. That would save lots of time and money.