Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bits & Pieces - Darke County Commissioners

Commissioners June 9, 2010
Bits ‘n Pieces
By Bob Robinson

Wednesday’s session of the Darke County Commissioners was interesting. There were the usual fund transfers, a couple of other routine items, and two bidding notices.
The hoops county officials have to jump through in order to satisfy state and federal requirements are ridiculous. One appropriations transfer actually required SIX steps to complete.
When it came time to take public comments and questions, I had two.
I asked if the commissioners had considered posting approved minutes on their website yet. They acknowledged they hadn’t. I asked if they were going to… they said they would look into it.
It was noted that approved minutes are available for inspection any time anyone wanted to come in and look at them. They said they weren’t sure if posting them online was required by law. I said it may not be required, but it would be a positive step toward communicating with interested taxpayers.
My second question had to do with the Wagner Avenue complex. They approved a $732,000, 4.050 percent bond anticipation note, and a $2.8 million, 1.75 percent tax exempt real estate bond anticipation note.
The agenda didn’t indicate if this was for Wagner, but I guessed it was and clarified it to make sure. Since they were “bond anticipation notes,” I asked when that was going to happen. I was told the smaller note would probably not be turned over as a bond because the amount was too small. They said the note would be retired in 7-8 years. The $2.8 million note was to be converted at the end of the year if the bond rate was low enough. Regardless, they said it would be retired in 28 years.
Then I questioned the other Wagner issues. It was in two steps. Step 1 was designated “WAGC Maintenance” and involved transferring a little over $250,000 for principle and interest on taxable and nontaxable notes. It was to make note payments, plus interest, but why was it designated “Maintenance?”
Step 2 was different than Step 1; $673,152, which could have had to do with a plan to turn a note into a bond that had to be postponed until December? What note, and why was it not a separate item? Usually the “step” process dealt with the same numbers throughout. I never got to ask those questions.
This was the point where Commissioner Haworth lost patience. He said that this was the reason he had a problem with posting approved minutes on the web site.
“These are things we have to do to satisfy state requirements,” he said (or something to that effect). He then talked about the confusion of the process and that they’d have to deal with questions like this all the time.
Once he finished his “lecture” he made it clear that he was through with me by going to others in the audience. When they were finished they went to vouchers. As we left, Haworth said, “feel free to ask questions any time.”
I agree that the entire process is ludicrous. Nearly every meeting is spent on legal “transfer” or “whatever” stuff required by law. It is so complex that millions of public tax dollars, not to mention private business resources, are wasted across the nation every day dealing with them.
Because our county commissioners only hold public meetings twice a week, and they seldom deal with anything but legally required business, we are an uneducated taxpayer base. Even if we go to the meetings, unless we ask questions we will likely remain uneducated.
Some sessions are informative, but I typically get more “usable” information when I’m at a meeting where one of the commissioners gives a report to the group they are addressing.
This is the way it’s always been, I guess, and commissioners made it clear Wednesday that they would be resistant to change. Their job will be more difficult if they have to “educate” us.
In Haworth’s defense, I believe that if I’d asked for a meeting to discuss these things, they would try to accommodate me. My questions probably would have been handled differently had they not been part of a public meeting. Why, I’m not sure, but I believe that to be true.
We have two options.
We can continue to be ignorant and trust that those we elect will have the desire, and the knowledge, to do what is best for us at all times and in all issues. That would obviously be preferred by many of our public servants.
Or we can choose to learn, and demand that we be made aware of the decision process so that we can participate where appropriate. The regularly scheduled public meetings are pretty much useless for this. Extra effort would be required of those we elect to properly communicate what they are doing and why.
At the same time, responsibility runs both ways. We have to let them know we want a voice. It has to start with them: posting minutes and other actions on their web site, holding public meetings for information purposes, and so on.
But we have to participate. That is the only way “we’ve always done it this way” can be changed… and I can’t do it alone.
One final note. I’ve questioned the possibility of having minutes emailed a few times over the past year. It never happened. I found out that they ARE being emailed to The Advocate. That did not make me a happy camper.
Watch for more Bits ‘n Pieces as they occur. Good stuff? Bad stuff? You decide.

Bob Robinson is the retired editor of The Daily Advocate, Greenville, Ohio. If you wish to be notified when a blog is posted, send your email address to: You may also request to receive his That’s My Opinion and Verities or Balderdash columns by direct email.

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