January 19, 2015
SECRECY IN BALDWIN--EDITORIAL BY MIKE BUFFINGTON
The following editorial was written
about Karen Degges, the current County Manager of Jasper County.
Nothing has changed. She still claims she can withhold
records, and has problems getting the audit done because of her delays.
This editorial was a real eye-opener, but every Commissioner knew
about it before she was hired.
Posted on June 17, 2011 by mikeb21081
Baldwin finance director Karen Degges tried to keep city budget
documents secret last week and refused to give our reporter at the Banks County
News a copy of the documents. She later sent an email to the city council
mulling over ways to keep the city’s budget process secret (now she claims that
email was “attorney-client” privilege.)
For the record, here is the full copy of
Degges email in which she makes it very clear she doesn’t want the public to
know about city spending plans:
Email dated: Monday, June 13, 2011 11:38 A
Good morning everyone,
Saturday’s meeting was one more challenging that I had hoped it would be,
with the unexpected attendance by the media (after they said they would not be
there at last Thursday’s work session). Clearly there is a huge amount of media
interest in the activities of Baldwin, on an extremely detailed level that I
have not seen with the other cities I’ve worked for. Unfortunately, the
handouts I had prepared for you folks included detailed information about
employee salaries, as I thought we were going to be in the position where we
could have much more frank discussion about the budgets submitted by the
department heads. I had hoped we would leave that meeting with a clear outline
of what needed to be cut, or some clear direction from the council as to what
staff should do to get the budget in presentation form. We could not get to
that goal with the added distraction of having the press literally sitting
right there on top of us looking at the notes being taken by the City Clerk and
Council members, asking questions, and providing their input as to what we
should be budgeting for. I am all for transparency in government, but not when
it’s to the point where work is being impeded and the line between who is staff
and who is media is being blurred. It took us four hours to get through the
budget summary, which had no detailed information at all.
It is going to be very difficult to have another public meeting, which is
scheduled for this Thursday at 5:30 at City Hall, and go into the level of
detail that will be needed to examine potential budget cuts and/or tax
increases to fund what has been requested. Sharon and I had some disagreement
first thing Saturday when she asked for a complete set of handouts, which were
draft working documents (and labeled so) for our internal use. Initially I
refused to provide her with anything, but then she said she was going to ask
the Mayor for a set of documents. Then I relented and gave her Robert’s copy of
the 3 page departmental summary, and she advised she would be writing up any
number we discussed in our meeting. That forced me to hang onto the other
handouts. It will be inflammatory enough in the paper to have her print (as I
am expecting) that staff has asked for an additional $150,000 in funding, which
will require a 2.5 tax mil increase.
Normally all of this behind the scenes discussion of budget details,
salaries and proposed budget cuts would be handled by staff (under the City
Manager’s direction) prior to presenting the budget to the elected officials.
The use of a budget committee of 3 elected officials was discussed but not
implemented on Saturday. Since everyone indicated they want to be involved in
the budget process (and it is your right to be as elected officials), I think
some serious thought needs to be given as to whether or not we want to continue
doing this level of detailed discussion and possible disagreement (about what
and where to cut) in full view of the press. My primary concern is preserving
some level of privacy for our employees, who do not want their pay detailed on
the front page of the newspaper for all of their neighbors to see.
I will be putting together some numbers this afternoon on a few different
scenarios for possible cost savings, and I would much prefer to meet with three
of you Thursday morning, and the second three Thursday afternoon, and it be
done as two staff meetings, than be forced to provide the press an abundance of
sensitive information, including employee salaries, in a public meeting. Not to
mention how much longer it will take to get through all this information in
that type of meeting structure. If we proceed with the original plan, the hand-outs
used will (I feel sure) be challenged again, and be again requested by the
media. Even if those aren’t distributed, everything we say will be public
I do not want to take away from or diminish anyone’s participation, but to
do this type of detailed budget work in front of the press is not going to be
easy or pleasant. Please think this over and let me know if you still want to
have the Special Called Meeting on Thursday, or handle this as two separate
staff meetings. No matter what is decided, I will try to adjust the content of
any handouts accordingly, and at least be more prepared for full publication of
If any of you have any questions about the material I gave you to take home,
please give me a call or stop by and I will be happy to assist you.
The situation of
Baldwin’s finance director attempting to do the city’s budget behind a veil of
secrecy is one of the worst examples of government leadership we have ever
As reported last week, city finance director Karen Degges
refused to give our reporter a copy of city budget documents and then sent an
e-mail to the council mulling over ways to keep the city’s budget meetings and
In a letter to the editor this week, Degges tries to
explain away her misdeeds and gives a variety of excuses for her behavior.
She says that she didn’t know our reporter would cover a 7
a.m. Saturday meeting so she didn’t have copies ready. She claims her email to
the city council was “attorney-client” privilege, indicating it was secret.
She says she was taught to not release working draft documents to the media of
city budgets. She says she didn’t release city pay records to be “sensitive” to
It’s all poppycock.
The real truth is Degges is angling to get the empty city
administrator’s position and is manipulating the budget process to make that
happen. She put in a $60,000 salary for that position and more funds for
additional finance help. And she’s putting the city council into a position of
raising taxes to fund the administrative position she covets.
She didn’t want the public to see all of that, so she tried
to keep city budget documents a secret.
Maybe Degges should spend more of her time getting last
year’s audit finished, which she should have completed months ago. Maybe she
should see that the minutes of city council meetings are updated, rather than
spending time playing games with the media.
In her own email, Degges admits to trying to keep city
budget documents secret. That’s the bottom line. Nothing she says now mitigates
The Banks County News will keep the spotlight on Degges and Baldwin
financial operations. If Degges persists in efforts to hide city documents or
hold secret meetings, we will respond in whatever means necessary to keep