Taking credit

August 14, 2013

There is an easy explanation why our county commissioners don’t want a vote on the spending of discretionary money in advance of it being distributed — even though the vote would be without suspense, and little more than a rubber stamp.

The commissioners want the gifting of the discretionary money attached to them, not the county, as they know the money purchases political support, if not an expressed quid pro quo then implicitly through a handshake and a wink.

A great example of the commissioners trying to take credit for the distribution of your money is this newspaper’s Empty Stocking Fund that benefits poor children at Christmas. Some county commissioners used to give money from their discretionary fund to the fund, coming in with a minimum gift of $500 and posing with the check for publication in the newspaper. Last year none of the commissioners contributed to the fund, apparently as a way to punish The Robesonian for our stories on their pay and benefits. But their aim was off. The ones who suffered were children in this county who went without presents.

There are other examples, such as signs at schools or fire departments that acknowledge a particular commissioner for a donation. The commissioners realize that a vote by the entire board to distribute money would make the gift more from the county and less from them as individuals.

The discretionary money, which no other commissioners in North Carolina’s 99 other counties enjoy, is a big reason why the average stay of our current county commissioners is right at 10 years and counting. And all four whose seats are up for re-election in 2014 — Chairman Noah Woods, and Commissioners Hubert Sealey, Lance Herndon and David Edge — have indicated they would run again.

The commissioners pretend that the spend-now, vote-later policy is for expediency, saying that some requests are on the clock. Their favorite example to usher out is the request from a Little League team that needs money now for a trip to compete in a tournament, but that is the exception, not the rule. It could be solved by adequately funding the Parks and Recreation Department through the budget, and providing money that could be held in a contingency fund for such requests.

The commissioners’ decision to vote on the spending only as a way for it to be public record, one that was forced by scrutiny, does provide some accountability.

But the fact that the commissioners refuse to vote on the money in advance of it cements the public’s perception that the commissioners see the discretionary money as theirs, not yours, to spend as they please and when they please. It is the kind of arrogance that results when elected officials no longer fear Election Day.