It was apparent on Tuesday that our county commissioners don’t like when the script isn’t followed exactly.
Commissioner David Edge, in an effort to cut in half the discretionary fund each commissioner receives annually from $40,000 to $20,000, went rogue, making the move without the obligatory back-room politicking to try to secure the support. After the motion received a second from Tom Taylor, it went down in a 6-2 vote — perhaps to be considered another day.
Commissioner Raymond Cummings’ substitute motion that the discretionary fund be included in a study of the commissioners’ pay and perks also failed, so County Manager Ricky Harris, as is outlined in today’s Page 1A story, doesn’t have that assignment. All amazing stuff considering that Taylor, who made the motion for the pay-and-perks study, tells us he intended for the $320,000-a-year slush fund to be included.
So on Tuesday at least, this gang couldn’t shoot straight.
While we believe that this county’s discretionary fund does need to be compared with how such dollars are doled out in other counties — in more modest sums, and not under the table — there is, we believe, a new urgency. This newspaper has spoken with numerous constitutional experts about the discretionary fund, including a retired state Supreme Court judge, and while none of them have said that distributing taxpayer money without a vote is illegal, they have inched very close to that line.
They spoke with a single voice on this: Providing $40,000 to each county commissioner a year for that person to hand out as he pleases, stinks, and raising that amount of money through the budget process is purposely deceptive, as is the way the commissioners have given themselves raises and created and bolstered benefits.
In fewer words, this county is vulnerable to a lawsuit, and we know there are plenty of people agitated enough to bring one, including an organized effort in the Philadelphus community. Should that happen, a close examination of where the money has been going is assured, and while we trust most if not all has been for worthy projects, we long ago quit being surprised.
A better study at this point would be for County Attorney Hal Kinlaw to look at the legitimacy of how the discretionary fund is fueled and emptied to see that it does indeed meet legal muster. That could begin without a motion, a second and five votes from county commissioners, and we believe given the scrutiny, it should already be on Kinlaw’s to-do list.
We know — because more than one has told us privately — that the commissioners are weary of the negative publicity and are anxious for this conversation to end, and we know also that there are commissioners on the board who aren’t in it for the money, want change but need votes.
We too are tired of the same old song, but as we told some commissioners privately, and will tell you publicly, that will only happen when problems are corrected, and the public — not this newspaper — is placated. The commissioners on Tuesday, with their decision not to cut the discretionary fund nor have its administration scrutinized, only gave this newspaper more to write about, and taxpayers of this county more to be angry about.
That’s on them — not us.