Local governments work for the common good in establishing rules that maintain public safety and order, but their primary function is to develop annual operating budgets. To that end, residents who elect neighbors to represent them on whatever elected body they serve expect and deserve professionalism.
It is an honor and a privilege to be granted such authority, and our elected representatives should never lose sight of their responsibility to, among other things, keep their electorate fully informed by explaining their vote and always acting in their best interests.
Unfortunately, some elected representatives occasionally lose sight of those responsibilities.
For instance, Hawkins County commissioners barely managed to approve their 2013-14 budget Oct. 3. Failure to pass the budget at that meeting would have had dire financial consequences for county taxpayers in that county government as well as the school system would have been excluded from October state funding checks.
The vote was 11-7 with two abstentions; 11 votes were needed for approval. So why did seven commissioners vote against the budget? Was it over some major county operating budget issue? No, most of the pre-vote debate involved issues with the Board of Education’s budget, which the commission does not write, but which is added to the county’s operating budget.
Two commissioners who voted against the budget, Syble Vaughan-Trent and Danny Alvis, objected to pay increases received by two school system employees. Commissioner Fred Castle objected to annual stipends school supervisors receive . Commissioner B.D. Cradic voted no because gym bleachers at Volunteer High School are “nasty.” And Commissioner Dwight Carter said he voted against the budget “because of the way it was allocated,” but refused to elaborate.
Commissioners Jeff Barrett and Huber Neal voted against the budget with no explanation as to why.
These commissioners seem to be on the wrong board. They should run for the Board of Education.
Over in Sullivan County, some commissioners wish their colleagues would stop talking about automatic pay increases because they “unnecessarily” stir up the taxpayers, who otherwise would not even notice them.
Several years ago, commissioners voted to link their pay to that of the county mayor, who in turn gets automatic increases each time state employees get a raise. They did this for one purpose: to avoid the painful process of having to publicly debate giving themselves a raise.
Now they want to hide from the automatic increases they arranged for themselves.
Earlier this year, Commissioner Ed Marsh pushed to eliminate that automatic gravy train before this year’s 4.6 percent automatic pay raise for commissioners took effect July 1, raising their compensation to $7,418. Marsh’s effort went nowhere. Commissioner Pat Shull is asking commissioners to disengage their pay from the mayor’s salary. Good luck with that one. Rather than support, Shull’s proposal is drawing rebuke.
Commissioner Kit McGlothlin, who has yet to reach one year’s service on the commission, asked, “What is the point of taking $50 a month from guys who are driving 40 miles to come to meetings?” Shull said if commissioners think they are due a raise they should have to talk about it and vote on it. McGlothlin said nine out of 10 people don’t know when commissioners get a raise and having to vote on it would draw attention and get everyone stirred up.
Commissioner Dennis Houser said talking about commissioner pay raises just caused unnecessary conflict and harassment. “The thing works,” Houser said. “Why change it?”
How about because county commissioners are employees of local taxpayers, and local taxpayers should have a voice in when their employees get raises and how much they should get?