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What is it about January?

WHAT IS IT ABOUT JANUARY?

January seems to bring out the worst in the Commissioners.  Last year it was the hospital issue, this year it’s pay raises and expense reimbursement.  The pay raises came as a shock to everyone.  After listening to Comm. Bernard continuously tell everyone that the county was in a financial bind (which we believe the audit showed to be true), and cutting the budget to make it realistic, the BOC still felt it was ok to vote themselves raises.  If that wasn’t bad enough, they also wanted their expenses reimbursed—but without telling anyone just which expenses those might be.  One of the more telling comments was reported in last week’s paper.  Comm. Bernard stated at the meeting with Rep. Jim Cole and Sen. Johnny Grant that “If I could get my expenses reimbursed, I’d donate my salary.”  The TWG alerted you back in December about these issues, and we questioned what kind of expenses might be reimbursed.  As of this date, not one of the commissioners has told us or anyone else just what they had in mind.  However, the public has certainly told the BOC just what is on their minds.  The editorials in the Monticello News are running against the raises about 100%.  The TWG is encouraged that so many people have voiced their opinions; now you need to show up at the next BOC meeting and express your views in person.  THESE RAISES ARE NOT A DONE DEAL! Although the TWG is not totally against a BOC raise for the future, we certainly recommend that due to the budget crisis and the cutting of budgets this year that their resolution asking the Legislature to increase their salaries at this time be rescinded.  We are totally against an open-ended expense reimbursement policy—ALL expense reports should be itemized.

 

 

OTHER INTERESTING/CONTROVERSIAL ITEMS ON THE NEXT AGENDA

“REFORMATTED” MINUTES

The TWG clearly recalls the campaign promises of Open Government.  That was the rallying cry during the last election.  People were still reeling from the Bear Creek Reservoir “deal” that was all done in secret meetings.  The contract was a one-sided deal—Newton County got the reservoir and we got to help pay for it as well as pay for the water.  During the last BOC meeting the newly hired County Manager made an announcement that he wanted to reformat the minutes from the 12/19/05 meeting and he requested that they not approve the minutes.  The TWG had obtained a copy of the draft of the minutes.  We have also obtained a copy of the newly formatted minutes.  Here’s the difference--

 

OLD MINUTES—(as originally prepared)

Board of Commissioners—To increase salary and provide expense reimbursement.  County Manager Greg Williams stated in April of 2004 the former board started to pass this through Home Rule, but due to many mistakes did not get it done.  Legislation is required in order to pass the salary increase and qualified expense reimbursement.  Legislation is needed to amend your current legislation.  The salary is the same amount the former board presented.  After discussion, motion by Commissioner Johnson to approve this resolution as written and authorize the signatures, seconded by Commissioner Hill.  Passed Unanimously.

 

REFORMATTED MINUTES (as prepared by County Manager)

Board of Commissioners—to increase salary and provide for expense reimbursement—Motion by Commissioner Johnson to approve this resolution as written and authorize the signatures, seconded by Commissioner Hill.  Passed Unanimously.

 

What do you think of the change?  Not more complete as Comm. Bernard said he wanted in the last meeting (“Our minutes are not complete enough.”), but completely barren of anything but the motion and the vote.  We don’t know how things are or were done in Rockdale County, but the people of Jasper County want to be informed as to what is going on with our county government and our BOC actions. Historically in the 1990’s the commission’s minutes were in a useful format and detail.  That format should be the standard for Jasper County minutes.  These reformatted minutes are little more than the final action taken.  Again, THIS IS NOT WHAT OUR COMMISSIONERS RAN ON!  They ran on open government.  Open government means letting the people know what goes on.  There are reasons for the vote and the resolution.  Without any of that in the minutes, there is no way to determine the “thought” of the BOC and why they voted the way they did.  There’s nothing to show that one or more commissioners had important comments.  In the opinion of the TWG, this is little more than “secret government.”  The problems with not having “good” and complete minutes is that you can’t find out what happened in the past.  The minutes are the “official record of the county business.”  After speaking with the County Manager, he informed us that, “We could listen to the tapes of the meeting if we wanted to know what went on.”  Well, what’s going to happen when the tape is blank, or it is lost, damaged, or just plain wears out?   Minutes are the permanent record—tapes are for backup only!  And when something has to be researched, such as what was really said, who’s going to sit down and listen to the tape for an hour or two or more?  Good minutes might take a little while to do, but in the long run they save time when something has to be looked up.  Commissioners, again, DO NOT GIVE US AS LITTLE INFORMATION AS YOU THINK YOU CAN GET BY WITH.  WE WANT THE OPEN GOVERNMENT YOU. PROMISED!

 

CHECK SIGNING RESPONSIBILITIES

The TWG is shocked at the persistence of the BOC to shirk their fiduciary responsibilities as trustees for the citizens of Jasper County.  If this was some huge county, we can see that someone other than the BOC members should sign the checks.  However, the problem seems to be more than just signing checks.  From our view, there are 2 problems.   One is that at least one of the commissioners doesn’t like driving to town.  On several occasions he has had county employees drive checks to his home to be signed.  The second is the office staff can’t seem to have the checks ready by a set date—such as the BOC meeting date.  There should be NO reason that checks have to be signed on a daily basis.  Paying bills every other week, or at least having them ready to sign every other week before or after the BOC meeting would prevent this entire “finding a commissioner to sign the checks” problem.  The resolutions on the agenda for next Tuesday night, give the new County Manager and the new CFO check signing authority.  BOTH THESE PEOPLE ARE STILL IN THEIR PROBATIONARY PERIOD!! 

 

We see a serious problem with this arrangement.  The BOC doesn’t have a clue as to what is going on financially as it is.  How will they know anything at all if they don’t sign the checks?  In fact, the BOC and County Manager seem to be unaware of the number of bills that are not only unpaid, but are several months in arrears as well as some bills being paid twice.  Sources tell us that the Sheriff’s cars are not being worked on by their regular vendor because the bill is several months past due.  We’ve also heard one of our ambulances had to be taken to Jackson for repair, again because the staff isn’t paying the bills on time. 

 

WHO IS IN CHARGE?

Who oversees that office and the employees that “work” there?  Obviously, the employees oversee themselves.  We have obtained time sheets for the month of December and find that even though the financial staff was rarely in the office for the last 2 weeks in December, at least one time sheet showed NO vacation days and NO personal days.  Yet the employees weren’t at work.  But, who cares?  Obviously, no one!  Who’s responsible?  The HR officer tells us the County Manager is.  There was no “approval” by anyone on the office staff’s time sheets.  As we say, the office staff does as it pleases and no one does anything about it.  Bills not paid, questionable time sheets, etc.  Why doesn’t the County have a policy to just let people come to work if they want to because that is exactly what is happening now.   Jasper County seems to be a “work if you want to” county.  We don’t need a salary survey, we need a survey of who is supposed to do what and if they really do the job they are paid to do.  That might be some money well spent.
 

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