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A tradition was broken Wednesday.

For the first time in at least four years, David Piggott, an outspoken critic of city financial policies and erstwhile mayoral candidate, did not conduct his annual public criticism of city officials at budget time.Not that he didn't try. Piggott was at the City Council meeting Wednesday night when the fiscal year 1997 budget was adopted, and he tried to speak. Mayor pro tem Sam Fowler refused to let him.

A sparsely attended public hearing on the budget was held June 5. Piggott wasn't there.

"I guess I missed everything," Piggott complained to the council. "The rules have changed."

Piggott was referring to the fact that in past years the council has held the public hearing and adopted the budget the same night. He said he was counting on that this year as well.

But this year wasn't the first. Last year the public hearing was held a week before the budget adoption, and Piggott spoke at the hearing.

City manager Tom Hardy said the change was made because of a complaint made by Piggott himself that public hearings were a farce because, with approval scheduled the same night, there wasn't time to respond to residents' concerns. Piggott denied he ever said such a thing.

There wasn't proper notification of the public hearing and enough time for citizens to review the budget this year, Piggott said, but Hardy maintained that notice requirements were strictly met.

After Wednesday's meeting, Piggott said had he been allowed to speak, he would have criticized the city's $29 million cash surplus (as of March 31) as illegal and unresponsive to citizens.

"No city should be able to accumulate $30 million just by accounts sitting around," he said.

Piggott forced a change in the city's surplus accounting procedures by complaining to the state auditor in 1993.

In addition to the 1997 budget adoption, the council adopted an amended 1996 budget Wednesday. It wasn't able to set a tax rate because, like other cities, it has not yet received certified tax rates back from the county.