Nelson frustated with County budget proccess

Ouch. The N & O blog has published some strongly-worded comments from Orange County Commissioner Mike Nelson about this year's budget process, as well as an admission from Moses Carey that he planned it that way. On the one hand, this is Mike's first year on the Board of Commissioners, so maybe he just hasn't gotten the hang of how they do business. On the other hand, if he didn't have access to the budget in advance, how is the public supposed to be informed about what's going on?

After being told that Chairman Moses Carey and Vice Chairman Barry Jacobs were reviewing a draft work session for that night's meeting and that handouts on some of the topics would be distributed that night, Nelson wrote to Blackmon, Coffey and his fellow commissioners:

"With all due respect, we needed this information before now. I don't understand why I've had to ask for it. The public expects us to know what's going on and to come to these meetings prepared. How the hell can I come to this meeting prepared if I don't get the agenda until now?"

"How the hell can we prepare for the other meetings if we don't know what's on the agenda? This is not a good, transparent, or efficient process. I'm ticked."

Carey responded a few hours later:

"You can be ticked at me. We were reviewing the list of agenda items and I neglected to instruct the staff to get it to all board members. I accept full responsibility."
- newsobserver.com |Orange Chat - Nelson calls Orange County budget process "worst, by far" he's seen

In related news, Mike (and others) will probably not bother to be as honest in their e-mail after this reminder that this is public information. ;-)

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Total votes: 84

Comments

Ruby, I fully expect that Mike and the rest of our local elected folks continue to be both honest and forthright in their emails.

As far as prompt agenda items, the BOCC is not the only elected body having issues with prompt disclosure. I've asked for it before (and I'll ask for it again), Chapel Hill's Town Council agenda needs to be complete, accurate and published a full 7 days prior to their meetings. They said they are committed to transparency - but the words don't track the output (in another example of a failure to "walk the talk").

At the last Council session, the addendum and modifications to the Lot #5 agreement were handed to Council as they came in (or that is at least what appeared to be the case). These modifications WERE NOT AVAILABLE to the public beforehand. Sure, I was the only person speaking during the PUBLIC HEARING on Lot #5 but what if these modifications needed further public commentary? Courtesy alone demands prompt disclosure.

This is a matter for Council to resolve. If Council doesn't have sufficient resources to put together an agenda for public review then we need to get resources. For one, the Clerk's office is under-siege and trying to negotiate the transition into the 21st century - they need more help.

As a close observer of Council and their work process, the public has been ill-served by the continuing slide towards autocracy, secrecy and political gamesmanship.

Moses Carey's apology takes the form of "I'm sorry, but ..."

The Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners should not have to remind the county staff to distribute a tricky agenda item to all commissioners as far in advance as possible. Orange County's new manager might be squriming over this little snafu.

Mike is right to be ticked. I applaud him for saying so in pubic. He's been around the budget block often enough to know when the sky is falling.

I concur with Will. I have repeatedly asked the BOCC for similar notice on agenda items and materials and have publicly commented so.

Ruby, thanks for posting this. I think it's important for people to know what's going on....or not going on. Let me give you an example of something that happened just last week which underscores my point that things are not working the way they should.

The BoCC had an item on our June 26 agenda for approval of 10-12 budget amendments to the 06-07 budget. However, we didn't recieve those budget amendements until the night before our meeting. These budget items amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars of budgetary adjustments.

What's the problem with receiving information so late? Well, first of all, commissioners didn't have time to fully review the amendments and accompanying background information. Alice Gordon, who thankfully had a fairly clear schedule the following day, discovered a mistake in the materials---$500,000 was counted twice, I believe--and the mistake was corrected in time for our meeting. But we were lucky that Alice had time that afternoon to plow through page after page of documents that had arrived at the last minute. Getting this kind of information late often means we can't do our job very well.

The second problem with recieving information so late is that it effectively cuts the public and the media out of the process. If these budget amendments had been included in the BOCC packets the previous Thursday along with our other agenda items, interested members of the public would have had plenty of time to review them and ask questions. But since these documents were not released until the night before the BOCC meeting, neither the public nor the press had adequate opportunity review the proposed budget amendments.

My point is this, it's critical to the process that information be shared in a timely manner. The elected officials need material in advance of the meetings so we can adequately review and analyze what's presented. The public needs access to these materials so they can a) review them and b) see that the process is transparent. And the press needs access to this information so they can perform their role as watchdogs.

While it is very distressing to hear that materials are being provided to the commissioners so late and not at all to the public, I think the most important question is why? I've had many dealings with the county staff and I find them to be very polite, professional, and responsible. So I'm assuming there is a process problem associated with materials preparation--similar to what the IT consultants for Chapel Hill reported. My impression is that the county office staffing is very, very lean.

I agree, Terri. Seems to me that the problem is more the notion that the Board of Comissioners (or any other local baord) should be in a rush to make a decision on items that come in at the last minute. Last minute decisions deprive the elected officials of the opportunity to reflect on the materials carefully and deprive the public of the opportunity to comment intelligently.

That said, sometimes last minute decisions do have to be made because of circumstances outside the control of either the staff or the elected officials. Also, there will always be a certain amount of last minute information - and you can't delay decisions forever.

MarkC, don't you think that public hearings are a different beast?

First let me say, thank you Commissioner Nelson for speaking up and I hope you will continue.

The information process has changed very little from when I ran in 1996 and that is unacceptable in this day what with the internet and webpages.

As for the staff being helpful most are but, you also have to ask the right question to the right person.

What concern me more than anything else is these commissioners are our elected voices to make decisions on how much to tax us to spending those taxes. It would appear that the shell game is still being played even among the commissioners.

WillR, yes. My comment above still applies to matters that are not up for public hearings though - because we usually hear public comment (if there is any) on any matter on our agenda. I think the County does likewise.

 
 

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