Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Response from Brian Anthony Wahby, Candidate for City Treasurer

1.    What do you view as the key role, and/or attributes needed for this position?  What experience/attributes do you have that qualify you for this position? 

There are three key attributes required to be successful in this position, and thus make the Treasurer a progressive force in our city:
1.    A command of public finance and the complex financial structures available to the City that we can use to create a safe return on our investments. This approach will protect taxpayers while making the Treasurer's Office part of the solution as we continue to face a fiscal crisis in St. Louis.
2.    An eagerness to serve with transparency.  The Treasurer’s Office manages tens of millions of dollars on a daily basis.  The public deserves to know how their money is being managed.
3.    A treasurer who is focused on progressive reform.  With an energetic and progressive person as Treasurer, this office can generate significantly more revenue for the city, make St. Louis more environmentally friendly and create much more customer convenience. 

My experience in public finance and city government will enable me to tackle this job right away.  I understand the capacity of this office to change our City for the better.  But I also clearly understand the problems in the office and I will waste no time in tackling them in an open and transparent way. 

As Chairman of the City Democratic Party and DNC member for Missouri, I have been a progressive force for change, working to elect Democrats for years.  I will run this office efficiently, and enact policies that use technology to drive customer convenience and create a more sustainable city.

2.    Why do you think you are the best person for this position?  What differentiates you from your opponent(s)?

I have an MBA from Washington University’s Olin School of Business, undergraduate degree is in Public Administration from UMSL.  I worked as an aide in the Treasurer’s Office in the 1990s. My job there was to lead specific projects that required complex financing and cooperative work with other parts of city government and with the private sector. For example, we partnered with the private sector to build the Kiel Center (now Scottrade) and its parking garage. I delivered this project on time and under budget. We also partnered with the St. Louis Public Library and the Central West End neighborhood to build the Argyle garage and Schlafly Branch Library at Euclid and Lindell.

St. Louis has made a lot of progress in the last few years. But we still have a long way to go in the renaissance of our city.  Reinvigorating St. Louis will require public officials with a proven record of planning, managing and creating successful projects, a demonstrated ability to manage people and systems efficiently and effectively, an ability to build broad coalitions and a sincere belief that this city's best days are ahead of us. 

My unique set of skills and experience will enable me to quickly make the Treasurer's Office a progressive force for reform and and an ally in the struggle to tackle the city's fiscal crisis.

3.    What do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

Restoring public confidence and turning the office into a source of real revenue to support city services are the two most pressing issues.

The Treasurer’s office has serious problems in its management structure.  My first day on the job will be the last day for any ghost employees on the Treasurer’s Office payroll. 

We will immediately begin to create a more open, transparent and accountable culture in this office.

If elected as City Treasurer, I will engage the public in order to weed out  problems in the light of day, with full public disclosure and with significant and continuing public input.

I also believe that much more revenue can be transferred back to the City to help fund essential city services.  This city's fiscal crisis is very real: the St. Louis Police Department is forced to cut back on officers, firehouses are closing and citizens have to pay for trash collection for the very first time.  Your elected officials, in every corner of City Hall, need to be focused on working together to use our resources efficiently without sacrificing quality services. 

I will create efficiencies, work in creative collaboration with other officials and make the Treasurer's assets, like the Parking Division, generate revenue that goes to support the services our citizens expect and deserve.

4.    If the St. Louis City Earnings Tax would ever fail to be renewed, what broad-based, stable source of revenue would you recommend to fund quality, public services?

The City Earnings Tax generates a third of the City’s general revenue and we would need a robust plan to replace it.  If the earnings tax would ever fail to be renewed, we would be faced with some very tough decisions. 

As Treasurer, I plan to provide more revenue to the city, but the way we fund our local government would have to be fundamentally restructured to operate more efficiently should the Earnings Tax ever be eliminated.  Obviously, some other  revenue source would have to be created, but they would have to balance the tax burden so that our residents do not bear an unfair portion. Clearly, there is no simple solution to replacing the revenue generated by the earnings tax.

I support the use of the earnings tax and will continue to do so.  Any tax policy pursued by the city should be fair, understandable and accountable.  It should also be created with public involvement and designed to deliver better public service and value to our citizens. 

5.    In your opinion, should the office of the Treasurer be in charge of the City of St. Louis Parking and/or the funds generated from the City of St. Louis Parking?

The Treasurer’s Office is in charge of the Parking Division. I am running for Treasurer to do the job as it is, not as it might be. To be sure, the Parking Division will be a difficult challenge, but I am running to do the whole job, not just the easy parts of it.  It would be irresponsible to simply throw up our hands and pass on the hard parts of the job.

Without a major re-structuring of city government, the next City Treasurer will be in charge of running the Parking Division for the foreseeable future.  If we have a City Treasurer who is focused on doing the job as it exists today, including reforming the Parking Division, St. Louisans will see more money returned to the city to pay for essential services.

Finally, I think it's a mistake to take a hap-hazard approach to the structure of city government.  Any decisions related to the structure of St. Louis government should be made in a bigger context of making local government more efficient and effective.  They should involve significant public involvement and be focused squarely on how a new governance structure can encourage growth, job creation, economic vitality and a better quality of life for St. Louis.

6.    Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

As Chairman of the City’s Central Committee, and 7th Ward Committeeman, I have spent many years working with leaders throughout this region. One example is my work spearheading the bid to bring the 2012 Democratic National Convention to St. Louis.  Although the effort fell short, I learned a lot from the experience.  Most important, I learned that bringing a diverse group of people together, all working toward the same goal is possible in this region.  We had business and Labor, city and county, Missouri and Illinois, Democrats and even some Republicans, unified behind one goal.  It opened my eyes to the possibilities of what we can accomplish if we work together as a region. 

As Treasurer, there are two primary groups I will focus on initially: Treasurer's Office employees and city residents and taxpayers. 

For employees, I will set very high standards for productivity, transparency and customer service.  I will clearly communicate these expectations and if and when necessary, enforce them.  If elected as Treasurer, my office and its employees will work hard every day to deliver service and value to the to the people of this city. 

To make such sweeping cultural changes, I will need public support.  I will engage the public on your expectations beforehand and actively communicate our progress (and our setbacks and challenges) as we work to implement our change agenda. 

I am both progressive and pragmatic. I’ll work to set priorities and find common ground so that we can move forward together as a city.  

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