Color us unimpressed that the beneficiaries of the county commissioners’ discretionary fund dutifully paraded before that board on Monday to extol its virtues.
Why were they so compelled? Were they there at the invitation of county commissioners scrambling to cling to the fund, with the implication being, show up and shower me with praise, or risk not getting a check; or were they there because they thought their public support might make for a larger check?
Either scenario is distasteful as it puts the county commissioners in a power position with the use of your money. The cheerleading by the beneficiaries boldly underlines the problem with the discretionary fund, which is plain for most clear-eyed folks.
And are we the only ones bemused that it was the commissioners, not the taxpayers, repeatedly being thanked for their generosity on Monday by those beneficiaries?
The commissioners continue to try to reshape the conversation, and succeeded to a degree on Monday when the discretionary fund and not their pay and benefits dominated the talk. We will keep saying it: This newspaper understands the discretionary money does good work in this community, and we aren’t arguing that worthy organizations and non-profits be defunded. We do find some uses of the money questionable, and as time and resources allow, we plan to highlight them for our readers.
But the $320,000 a year discretionary fund is bloated, so much so that most commissioners can’t find the time in a single year to eat their $40,000 slice. There are few things more basic in a democratic society than a taxpayer’s right to know where his money is going, which could be accomplished by an up-down vote by the commissioners on a cluster of requests, but that is purposely — and now stubbornly — being denied in this county.
The commissioners want to talk about the discretionary fund because they have no interest in talking about their pay and benefits. On Monday, almost two dozen people spoke before the commissioners, and while many spoke lovingly of the discretionary fund, no one said they thought it was OK that our county commissioners are making about $22,000 a year — more for the chairman — get free health insurance for them and their family, and are building retirement funds on your dime.
Certainly no one who benefits from the discretionary fund was going to suggest that the commissioners’ pay was too much and their benefits too lavish. We all know what the penance would be for such honesty.
It is increasingly obvious that the county commissioners have no interest at looking at their discretionary fund to see if the way it is administered needs to be tailored toward accountability, and whether some of that $320,000 should be returned to the General Fund so it could be rerouted to county departments that are chronically underfunded.
If our forecast is accurate, then the study that they directed County Manager Ricky Harris to conduct, which didn’t identify another discretionary fund in this state, will have been at least part scam.
Chairman Noah Woods said that the county commissioners will take a hard look at their pay and benefits when they begin shaping the budget to take effect on July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year. The number of people who believe that will happen shrinks by the day.
Such is the trust in this county of these elected officials.