Council members Yolie Capin and Mary Mulhern argued strongly for an analyst. Mulhern said the board passes numerous appropriations each week and annually approves an overall budget with no help from direct staff.
"The fact that we have no independent staff on these important decisions I think is unbelievable," she said.
Her concern goes back to 2008, when the failure to create such a position led to the formation of a citizen's budget advisory committee — a group of volunteers who meets monthly to review the budget and make recommendations.
The proposal to hire an analyst received little support from other council members. Harry Cohen said with the city looking to cut spending again this year, now is not the proper time. He also said if there are extra funds in the budget, he'd like them to go into departments like code enforcement or parks and recreation, a comment echoed by Frank Reddick and Lisa Montelione.
Mulhern then said the board's job is to be a "check and balance" on the Buckhorn administration. She emphasized her bona fides on the subject, complaining that even though she served as finance chair during her first term in office, that expertise was lost "because the administration and this council didn't see any benefit to this institution," even though, she added, she was the only council member who didn't need a run-off election back in 2011, which was not the case, as Frank Reddick reminded her moments later. Charlie Miranda also defeated Kelly Benjamin straight up on the first ballot that year.
Councilman Mike Suarez didn't appreciate what he called an assertion that other board members did not do as through of a job scrutinizing the budget.
"I know that your assessment and disagreement is not a personal attack, I'm sure of that," he said to Mulhern. "Your words were ill timed and not well placed. We do go through the budget and I think you do know we work hard at our jobs."
Other council members followed suit, with Lisa Montelione, Cohen and Reddick all affirming that they put in hard work on fiscal matters each and every week.
Mulhern said she did not choose her words wisely.
"I was not suggesting that anyone is not doing really hard work looking at the budget," she said, adding that she was sorry if it sounded like she was attacking anyone.
She added that in her experience, the budget is so large that it's impossible for any single board member to have the time to challenge the mayor when he turns in his budget.
"I feel we owe it to our constituents, and if we did, there would be more than one time in two years where every single item gets approved," she said.
(That was a reference to Reddick's blasting Buckhorn for not including enough money in the FY2012 budget to help fund a specific swimming pool. Reddick threatened to vote against the budget, but the mayor ultimately found the funds to placate him).
The original bill sponsor, Yolie Capin, questioned the concept of a strong-mayor system of local government; she said it's more like a weak council, "because we choose to be weak."
Saying they were all just "paper tigers," Capin added that such a budget analyst would allow members of the council to know what questions to ask on financial matters. She said the city made recent hires, so the idea that they couldn't afford to bring an analyst onto the payroll is inaccurate.
"Anyone who says they totally understand the budget? Yeah, I can build a rocket, too," she offered sarcastically.
Council chair Charlie Miranda then dropped the news that, in fact, under the mayor's proposed FY2014 budget, he had to find roughly $25,000 to cut from City Council, which he said would probably be from unused travel because there isn't anything left to cut.
A moment later, the board voted 5-2 to reject the idea.