The vote for the study is a necessary first step in the return to fiscal sanity, but the hard decisions, ones that will require sacrifice from the commissioners, are down the road, and that is when the praise will be offered because only then will it have been deserved.
There remains some confusion about exactly what will be looked at in the study by County Manager Ricky Harris’ staff. This newspaper on Wednesday reported that the motion from Commissioner Tom Taylor was for an examination by county staff of the commissioners’ salaries, stipend, health insurance, retirement, and their annual $320,000 a year discretionary fund, from which each can take a $40,000 bite. But we were later told that the discretionary fund was not included in the motion, and that a motion by Commissioner Raymond Cummings that it should be included died for a lack of a second.
We will clear that up, perhaps on Sunday in a story that is planned on the next step — or in advance of that.
On Tuesday, a motion by Commissioner David Edge, which was seconded by Taylor, to cut the discretionary fund from $40,000 to $20,000 could not garner any additional support and died in a 6-2 vote. While critics will say that the commissioners have already shown their cards, we will trust that Edge’s motion was a surprise and that the commissioners want time to look more closely at the size of the discretionary fund and how it is administered if those things are not part of Harris’ project.
We have never argued that the discretionary fund is without merit; we accept that it greases the effort to get dollars to worthy community projects that might shrivel to extinction without that support. Our concern has been the amount of taxpayer dollars a single commissioner controls, and that the money can be dispensed with no public accounting.
We can tell you the consensus of several experts on constitutional law has been that if the money is being distributed legally, that bar is barely being cleared.
The absurdity of it all was in full view on Tuesday when Commissioner Hubert Sealey said that the $40,000 he receives in discretionary money each year doesn’t meet the needs in his distressed district. What Sealey didn’t explain, because he can’t, is why a month ago he had almost $80,000 in his fund, meaning he isn’t emptying the fund.
Sealey and other commissioners who share his sentiment would be wise to abandon their strategy of defending the indefensible and fix the problem. We understand the slush fund’s role in winning re-election, but going forward that fund is more likely to be a burden than a benefit on Election Day.