Unraveling a Byzantine mess

There was quite a to-do between the city’s chief financial officer Eric Demas, and School Committeeman Frank Parker, and School Superintendent Priya Tahiliani Monday night.

Demas appeared to explain how to do an Everett city hall spreadsheet that could not be understood while Tahiliani said she was a numbers person who needed the real numbers from the city in order to make reasoned financial decisions.

The discussion centered over exceptionally convoluted money reimbursements between the city, the School Department, and the state government which Demas was unable to explain sufficiently to allow Parker or Tahiliani to understand much less to agree with.

Demas was on the defensive because the accounting practices he was seeking to explain away were semantic while the questions and responses by Tahiliani and Parker were anything but semantics and dealt specifically with dollars and cents.

Demas treated the exchange like a high school debate with his boss the mayor seated in the room listening and judging him.

The school department’s chief financial officer seemed more on a solid footing than Demas.

What the schools needs and what the city takes back from the schools is not semantic.

Demas and the mayor claimed $20 million was given to the schools in one year.

Demas said the $20 million was three years of funding giv- en in one fiscal year.

A semantic thing.

Demas noted giving $5.5 million, $6 million, and $5.5 mil- lion.

Tahiliani added adroitly to Demas that “that doesn’t add up to $20 million.”

Where is the other money that should be in our account, she seemed to ask? Demas said he was not sleeping at night trying to meet the demands of keeping track of spending and income. He spoke of the intense pressure he is under and how there is more to city finances than taking care of the School Department and that the School Department should understand this.

“Why all the animosity?” he asked.

Perhaps Demas and the mayor should go away on a vacation to Aruba to rest themselves and to replenish themselves and come up with better answers to legitimate financial questions asked by the School Committee.

In this instance, the School Department understood the finances and its nuances in the hands of Demas and the mayor better than Demas and the mayor understood them.

What this discussion proved is that the School Department needs to watch Demas and the mayor like a hawk because they are disingenuous.

What was the mayor’s response to most questions: “I’ll get back to you.”

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