Few words in the English language are as dry as this one: budget.
Yet during a packed virtual event on Thursday night, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart managed to make the subject of our city’s spending and saving decidedly, well, riveting.
Held in partnership with Fitler Club, the event was moderated by Citizen co-founder Larry Platt, who’s never been a wallflower when it comes to calling out our leaders for incompetence and other shortcomings. (Really, do you read the guy’s columns? If not: Start now.)
So it was refreshing, and particularly meaningful, to see Platt hold the Controller up as an example of no-bullshit progress and change, as he nerded out, for example, over the interactive charts her office puts out; as recently as this week, her office issued this one (to make clear to those of us without Rhynhart’s Masters from Columbia…) about how the mayor’s most recent proposed budget differs, drastically in the case of arts and workforce development for example, from the current one.
“We’re in an unprecedented environment. The decline in tax revenues is severe. This is something we haven’t faced before. This is hard. So I just want to make sure that that’s clear,” she said, in fairness to the mayor. “But I think that there are ways to manage through it that are more thoughtful, […] there are ways to manage through it without tax increases […] and without severe cuts to services.” It’s not easy, she conceded, but “let’s use this crisis as an opportunity to run the city better,” she added.
Rhynhart, an Abington native, shared from her living room (complete with a portrait of her hound dog, Banjo) that she spent the early part of her career on Wall Street, working for Bear Stearns (she left before its collapse); what drew her back home was the realization that she could apply her financial know-how to helping others. “I just really started to feel like […] local governments need people that understand finance, that understand business, and that can help governments make better decisions for taxpayers.” She served as city treasurer in Michael Nutter’s administration, and worked for the City for nine years.
“I feel a really strong connection to the city. I love this city,” she said. And thank God she does, because if the event made anything clear, it’s that we need more brains and B.S.-free attitudes like Rhynhart’s if we want to keep moving forward.
“Not everyone wants to change things. To me, change is healthy, it feels good when it’s positive. Not everyone feels that way. [But] I just keep pushing along.”
If you missed the event, you can watch it above (stick around to hear what her relationship with the mayor is really like—guests were shocked!).
And be sure to sign up for The Citizen’s events here—they’re free, but RSVP is required.