Two things from recent County Board of Commissioner meetings beg for comment.
First, Board Chair Mena Kaehler, who is on a committee charged with redesigning the county’s website, asked if past meeting agendas and minutes should be taken off the redesigned site. Those records now go back to 2002, when the county first began to post such things on the Internet. But Kaehler asked if perhaps the county should make only the past five years available electronically. She noted that the county keeps those records in its offices.
The fact that the county keeps hard copies of those records does not mean that the records are easily accessible to the public. There is a lengthy procedure that must be followed to gain access to paper records and digital records archived by the county, which presents a procedural and time lag wall between the data and the public. At least if the agendas and minutes — which are skimpy with details at best — are on the county’s website, they can be easily accessed by members of the public.
I am sure that it is clear to County Administrator Hebert and the board that not having county employees tied up with helping the public research old records will save time and taxpayer dollars. Isn’t that why agendas, minutes, policies and calendars are available on the Internet?
The agenda for next Tuesday’s County Commissioner meeting is a case in point for the necessity of keeping past records on the website. County Administrator Hebert, in making a case for his office holding the authority to hire department heads, rather than the County Commissioners, makes reference to board action going back to 1986. It would be nice to have those records readily available for research, but they are not. Even maintaining records back to 2002 is a great service to the public, and a way for the county board to provide a certain amount of transparency to the taxpaying public that votes them into office.
The second item of interest in county business is the discussion of the hiring authority that the board seems ready to hand over to the County Administrator.
The County Commissioners are voted in by the public, and therefor accountable to the public. The County Administrator is hired by the County Commissioners and is accountable only to the board. If the board abdicates its responsibility for hiring department heads, it has the effect of removing not only themselves, but the public, from the business of running the county.
The reason the county has a County Administrator is to run the day-to-day business of the county and carry out the directives of the board. County Commissioners should not give away the authority over the choice of which person will hold the very important and powerful role of department head. Department heads shape the delivery of county services and are responsible for enormous budgets. Their actions and job performance should be directly accountable to the taxpayers, and the taxpayer’s representatives, who are elected commissioners, not just the county administrator.
For all power and decision-making responsibility to reside in one unelected position is not what we expect in a democracy. We want our elected officials to answer to us, the people.