Howdy Ramseur, it’s been a minute since last we talked. Sometimes you just have to walk away and recharge the batteries or you run the risk of damaging the machine. I am fully charged today.
The other day I posted the video of our board of commissioners meeting, recorded last Tuesday night. I would encourage you to watch it all, but if you are not so inclined I’m here to help.
Early last year when I refused to accept payment, at the suggestion of several board members, for my time recording meetings I was replaced by Commissioner Parrish. I have no control over his camera, so if the videos stop being recorded and made available, I guess we’ll know why. I still have my old camera, and I haven’t forgotten how to use it.
Last Tuesday’s meeting runs just over two hours, not including a public hearing, not recorded, held before the regular meeting started. I sat down this morning and wrote up the narrative of what was done during the meeting. The resulting document was over 4,000 words long, and that’s before I began editing. When I edit words tend to multiply, so I decided to break things up into smaller more manageable chunks. The post below covers the first part of the meeting. The other parts will follow in the coming days or weeks, as time permits.
I attended the meeting, recorded my own audio, downloaded the video from Facebook and stored a copy on my YouTube channel, and then watched it all again several times while taking notes. It’s a lot of work, this watchdogging thing. Thanks for caring enough to follow along. – TJH3
On Tuesday, 17 August, the Ramseur board of commissioners held their regular monthly meeting. After passing a consent agenda (a group of issues such as unavoidable expenses and reports from various departments upon which there is general agreement, passed as a group to save time), the board heard from the town clerk/finance officer Carol Akers, regarding progress on the audit of our 2029-20 budget.
Mrs. Akers spoke at length about problems she and her coworkers in the office have been dealing with in getting our financial accounts reconciled and ready to audit. A budget audit is required of the previous year’s budget. The state requires this every year. Carol Akers does the very best she knows how to do every day she’s on the job, but I think she’d be the first to admit that in her role as the chief financial officer for the town she is not as qualified as she or anyone else would like. That’s not meant to be a slur against Mrs. Akers at all; it’s a simple statement of fact that everyone involved in our local government knows by now.
According to Mrs. Akers (the video at the bottom of the page is set to start just before her remarks to the board begin), there are financial documents going back many years that no one can find. Prior to Carol’s taking over the role of finance officer, she states that our books had not been properly reconciled for six years. Yes, six. Years.
In short, our finances have not been properly maintained and books balanced since the day Freda Waisner retired from the job in 2015, near the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year. We’ve had no less than five different finance officers and several consultants in our finance department since then, and thanks to the combined incompetence and/or malfeasance of those individuals we now have six years for which no one will ever be able to say with certainty where all of our money went or what it was used for. To get to the root of this dilemma would take a team of several people working full time five days a week for at least a year, maybe much longer. That’s an undertaking we simply cannot afford on our own.
Since 2015 we’ve seen three elections, with a fourth now just a few months away, and at least two complete turnovers of the governing board, and NO ONE knows where all the missing records and documents might be. Some may even have been shredded by former officials, but at this point, that water has passed under the bridge and there’s very little chance of us ever getting it back. This has got to stop, this doing the same thing we’ve always done and getting the same rotten results
I have been advocating for a change to our town charter, from the mayor-council form of government to the council-manager form, for most of the last six years, since I moved into town. Ramseur needs stable, professional management by people qualified to do the job, and changing the charter is the only way to ensure that once made that change will not be overturned by the next incoming board of commissioners.
When the town experimented with a town administrator several years ago, that was the fatal flaw in the plan. A town with our form of government (mayor-council) can hire an administrator, but that person is subject to the whims of the elected board of commissioners and can be hamstrung by the board. Under a council-manager form of government, the manager is tasked with specific duties, some statutory. Having a manager creates a hierarchy wherein all department heads report to the manager who in turn reports to the board of commissioners.
Some people mistakenly believe that such a change takes power away from the board. I beg to differ. Hiring a competent manager frees the board to do what governing boards are elected to do: make policy decisions. While it’s true that sometimes we get lucky and get to elect our officials from a pool of people with police, fire, public works, or other relevant experience to draw upon, but that’s always going to be the exception. We might get five competent people who have time to dedicate most of each day to run a municipal department or three for $150 per month, but that’s not something we can bank on. Ramseur desperately needs a town manager. Otherwise, we will waste a lot of time every few years paying multiple consultants, as we are doing now, to sort out the mess made by previous boards. Lather, rinse, repeat.
With a town manager, we can make long-term plans going out five, ten, even twenty years down the road for the good of our town and see them come to completion. The way things are done now unless there’s a bill due every month, such as paying for our fire department, long-range plans are only as sustainable as the boards that pass them. Lose a couple of members and anything not legally binding can be dropped and forgotten almost overnight, like water line extensions up Highway 49.
I’d hate to be in the shoes of our mayor, commissioners, and employees in our office, working their butts off for months, if not years, to straighten out mistakes made over the past six years, only to see a couple of elections come and go resulting in divided boards composed of people unable or unwilling to educate themselves and get the work done, and all that hard work get flushed down the drain for nothing.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Some people insist that we can’t afford a town manager, but that’s a steaming pile of horse manure. This year our board of commissioners came up with roughly $135,000.00 to give raises to various town employees, and as I understand it, some want to go even further, suggesting things like an additional 15% raise for the police chief or an extra $4,000.00 for the clerk/finance officer. Those last two proposals sound a bit reckless to me, but aside from that $135k is more than enough to pay a town manager, and don’t try to tell me that money is only enough for one year. If we could budget that much for raises to existing employee wages this year, we’ll have to come up with that amount again next year, and every year from then on. A qualified town manager knows where to find and how to win grants and other sources of funding. That position pays for itself over and over again.
A few months ago I watched a bit of the county commissioners’ meeting where the recently retired head of our county health department was honored for her work. At one point the speaker pointed out that during her time in office the departing head of public health had increased the amount of grant money flowing into that department from less than $40k to more than $800k. That’s what qualified professional managers do; they know how to find the money and bring it home. There’s plenty of grant money out there to be had, but in Ramseur, we can’t currently qualify for most of it because, for one thing, we’re behind on our audits.
Ramseur desperately needs professional management if we ever hope to enjoy long-term financial stability and grow this town into the jewel on the banks of Deep River that it once was, and could be again. Without a town manager and the necessary changes to our municipal corporate charter that would entrench that position long enough to do any good, we are doomed to keep making the same expensive mistakes over and over again until one day the state of North Carolina will realize just how unfit we are to manage our affairs and will step in and either dissolve the town or mandate the exact solution I’ve been trying to sell for the last several years.