Waste money? Not on my watch

Another View
By: Jennifer Montgomery, District 5 supervisor
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In these extremely challenging economic times, when every penny spent is scrutinized and the pain of deep cuts are felt everywhere, decisions involving taxpayer dollars should be fully transparent and utterly defensible. More families are faced with this hard choice: How do we pay the bills when paychecks are shrinking, while at the same time, maintain something close to the quality of life we had during the good times? The first line of defense for most is to look at how we do business. Is our bill-paying system as efficient as it could be? Can we knock down some fees to free up some cash? Maybe consolidate services into a single bill? Personal financial planners have made whole careers out of helping families reinvent the way they conduct personal business. Bundling cable TV, Internet and phone bills can save hundreds of dollars, for example. It is amazing how much more efficient we can become when we engage in critical self-examination. Similarly, government should put itself through the same audit process. But let’s face it. When times are good, it is easy to become lax. What’s a few bucks here and there, right? Wrong. Not anymore — and not on my watch. It has become painfully obvious that our county government needs to look hard at the policies and procedures that dictate how we do business. After seven months on the job — while I believe our board has acted prudently in dealing with the budget deficit we’ve incurred over the past year — we haven’t done nearly as well when it comes to our internal processes. We need to re-evaluate and adopt strict policies that control the excesses of the past. When I ran for office, I advocated for governmental openness, responsiveness and participatory democracy. To keep you involved in setting the direction of the county, I’m prepared to propose changes, and I also want to hear your thoughts. Here are a few suggestions for consideration: 1) Agendize and discuss “merit increases” and whether increases for unclassified employees are appropriate in difficult financial times and if the county should continue the policy. Revisit the subject on a yearly basis, as needed. 2) Reconfirm the countywide policy that all positions be publicly advertised and make the process (barring confidential information) fully transparent. 3) Impose limits on discretionary expenditures and adhere to these unless prior approval has been authorized. Freeze most spending on meals, memberships, travel and special events unless they clearly demonstrate a public benefit. 4) Create a user-friendly Web page (available on the county Web site) that lists every senior county employee or elected official by position. List base salary, overtime, benefits and other “perks” and make that list sortable by name, position and salary. 5) Strengthen the county nepotism- and conflict-of-interest rules to prevent any employee or elected official from influencing the hiring or the awarding of any contracts. 6) The Board of Supervisors and CEO staff should turn in their county credit cards and use personal cards, so each expenditure can be scrutinized. I’ve already handed in my credit card. 7) Establish a citizens’ committee to review and comment upon county processes and suggest possible improvements. 8) Temporarily suspend the Supervisor’s Revenue Sharing program. I sincerely believe that my colleagues on the board and I — and the majority of county employees — are doing our very best to conduct the people’s business in a responsible manner. However, I also believe public perception to the contrary can become reality. My proposed changes will help assure citizens we are doing our best to spend wisely. They will help create a new pattern of thoughtful decision-making. You may have other proposals for policy changes, and I’m looking forward to sharing your suggestions with my colleagues. Please contact me at jmont or at (530) 889-4010 with your ideas.