.

Barnstable County Commissioners Refuse Demand for Transparency County Finances

Transparency -Where Is It ?
Transparency -Where Is It ?
Yesterday, as the Cape Cod Times reports, the Barnstable County Commissioners voted to "disapprove" an amended county budget that was forwarded to the Commissioners by the Assembly of Delegates. 

The minutes of the Assembly of Delegates for May 7 and May 21 make it clear that the reason that the Assembly refused to approve the county budget was because they were not willing to accept the refusal of the County Commissioners and County Finance Director to provide greater transparency into the county's finances. 

Specifically, the members of the Assembly did not want to approve a budget if they executive branch refused to provide sufficient information for them to understand the extent of the county's financial support for various independent entities. 

Additionally, the members of the Assembly wanted better information on the size of the county's liability for "Other Post Employment Benefits" (OPEB), including the amounts of OPEB that have been created, and continue to be created, by employees whose time and energy is devoted performing work for entities other than county business.  Although the size of the unfunded OPEB liability has variousy been estimated at $50 million to $60 million (by the County Finance Director) and at $31 million (by the County's auditors, Barnstable County does recognize the liability and the Barnstable County Commissioners have offered no plan to fund it. 

The Assembly Delegate who proposed the amendment to the Commissioners' budget -- which would deny the requested 2 1/2% tax increase and balance the $28.5 million budget by trimming $74,000 from two of the largest budgeted expenditures -- stated her view that it was inappropriate for the Assembly to approve a tax increase if the executive branch was not willing to provide information regarding the value of the financial subsidies that the county provides to these other entities.

As the minutes make clear, the express purpose of the Assembly in amending the budget was to "send a message" to the County Commissioners that the Assembly was not willing, in principle, to approve an increase in the county budget if the executive branch of the county government was not willing to provide the Assembly with full transparency regarding the use of these taxpayer funds.

The County Commissioners and County Finance Director could have simply provided the information that was requested. 

Instead, they changed the subject. 

The County Commissioners ignored the central complaint of the Assembly and many of their constituents -- the lack of transparency regarding the use of county resources and the OPEB liability -- and have instead devoted themselves to meandering, and irrelevant, discussions of county revenues and the two individual line items in the budget where the Assembly proposed to make modest reductions.

In the course of their "deliberations" this week, the County Commissioners have strained to depict the Assembly's action on the budget as reckless and irresponsible by deliberately misinterpreting the Assembly's intent and by extrapolating the Assembly's single year refusal to increase tax revenue by $74,000 as a commitment to refuse all such annual increases in perpetuity.

By the County Finance Director's own admission to the County Commissioners on January 8, 2014, a simple cost accounting of the allocation of county resources to independent agencies such as CLC and CVEC would be "easy to do."  Additionally, it should be noted that the Finance Director made a back of the envelope presentation on the size of the OPEB liability to the County Commissioners on that same date. 

There is no reason why this information could not be collected and provided to the Assembly in a matter of days or weeks.  Yet the County Commissioners and Finance Director simply refuse to do so, instead offering only vague promises to try to do better next year or to schedule a "joint meeting" between the County Commissioners and the Assembly. 

It is incomprehensible to me why the County Commissioners and Finance Director have taken such a firm stand against simply providing the transparency into the County finances that has been required by the County legislature and members of the public.  In my opinion, it should be unacceptable to the Assembly, and to the public, to allow the County Commissioners to refuse this request and, even worse, to ignore the issue, treating the Assembly as an irrelevant adjunct to their operations whose sole purpose is to rubber stamp the county budget. 

Keep in mind that this is the same Board of Regional Commissioners that has repeatedly refused  to discuss ongoing complaints about the lack of transparency into CLC and CVEC -- refusing even to place the topic on their agenda -- and has voted to "disapprove" the Assembly's request to the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Inspector General to examine the finances and governance of these bodies.  

In this event, the Chairman of the County Commissioners actually turned to the Assistant County Administrator, Ms. Margaret Downey -- executive administrator of CLC and former executive administrator of CVEC -- who would obviously be a person of interest in any further inquiries by the AG and the IG -- to provide the Commissioner with a list of reasons to disapprove the investigation and to draft the Commissioners Letter of Disapproval!

I had thought that the Commissioners enlistment of Ms. Downey, the target of the proposed investigations, to draft their Letter of Disapproval was as indefensible an action as could be taken by any public official.  It appears to me now that the County Commissioners are plumbing new depths by insisting that the duly elected representatives of the County legislature approve their budget even as they refuse to provide them with the detailed information that they seek regarding the use of the taxpayer funds that they are expected to approve.

What is the point of having two branches of government, with such separate and distinct functions, if one branch of government seeks to deprive the other of its power to perform its natural statutory duties? 

Who could possibly support such a determined and unreasonable stand on the part of an elected Board of Regional Commissioners against openness, transparency and accountability for the very government apparatus that they are entrusted to administer?

The actions of the County Commissioners are baffling and bizarre and can only lead to the presumption that the Commissioners have some vested interest in withholding this information from the Assembly and from the public -- which, in turn, is all the more reason to insist upon immediate, full and complete transparency into all of these financial issues.

Frank Haggerty June 01, 2014 at 07:58 AM
I'm watching the livestream video of the County Commissioners' meeting this morning. Most of the discussion is nothing more than the usual misdirection on the part of the County Commissioners, discussing every issue under the sun other than the core complaint of regarding the lack of transparency. More discussion about the need for "stable" revenue and the "imprudence" of not increasing revenue by 2 1/2%. Commissioner Doherty just reiterated the threat to balance the IT budget by cutting the funds from Truro (begins at about minute 12 on the video). As this is the second time that the Commissioners have linked the notion of Truro's IT funding to the proposer of Resolution 14-02, it is hard to view this as anything but a threat. After having reassuring themselves of the merits of their original budget they are no moving on to the process of disapproving the amended budget. Troy is speaking now to summarize his memos on the budget procedure and deadlines. If Assembly hasn't taken "final action" by June 1st, the Commissioners Budget becomes the budget. Three options for Commissioners: 1) Approve 14-02. 2) Disapprove -- ten days to send back notice of disapproval. Assembly can override with 2/3 weighted vote of the population of the county. Then Assembly budget becomes the budget. 3) If the Commissioners take no action, the Assembly will have no jurisdiction to do anything (because the Commissioners have ten days to take action) and the Commissioners' budget will become the budget. (Need quorum of 51% for a meeting and absolute 2/3 majority of population for override). Lyons, Doherty, et al, express the opinion that they should "take the high road" and disapprove the budget (Option 2) rather than to enact their budget through inaction. Discussion looking forward about improved protocols for the budget discussion. Flynn references letter about joint meeting on charter issues, etc. Not a word has been uttered about transparency. Commissioners disapprove Resolution 14-02 by unanimous vote.
Frank Haggerty June 01, 2014 at 07:59 AM
I'm watching the livestream video of the County Commissioners' meeting this morning. Most of the discussion is nothing more than the usual misdirection on the part of the County Commissioners, discussing every issue under the sun other than the core complaint of regarding the lack of transparency. More discussion about the need for "stable" revenue and the "imprudence" of not increasing revenue by 2 1/2%. Commissioner Doherty just reiterated the threat to balance the IT budget by cutting the funds from Truro (begins at about minute 12 on the video). As this is the second time that the Commissioners have linked the notion of Truro's IT funding to the proposer of Resolution 14-02, it is hard to view this as anything but a threat. After having reassuring themselves of the merits of their original budget they are no moving on to the process of disapproving the amended budget. Troy is speaking now to summarize his memos on the budget procedure and deadlines. If Assembly hasn't taken "final action" by June 1st, the Commissioners Budget becomes the budget. Three options for Commissioners: 1) Approve 14-02. 2) Disapprove -- ten days to send back notice of disapproval. Assembly can override with 2/3 weighted vote of the population of the county. Then Assembly budget becomes the budget. 3) If the Commissioners take no action, the Assembly will have no jurisdiction to do anything (because the Commissioners have ten days to take action) and the Commissioners' budget will become the budget. (Need quorum of 51% for a meeting and absolute 2/3 majority of population for override). Lyons, Doherty, et al, express the opinion that they should "take the high road" and disapprove the budget (Option 2) rather than to enact their budget through inaction. Discussion looking forward about improved protocols for the budget discussion. Flynn references letter about joint meeting on charter issues, etc. Not a word has been uttered about transparency. Commissioners disapprove Resolution 14-02 by unanimous vote.
Marlis Dunn June 10, 2014 at 09:12 AM
No budget should be approved without clear, and detailed explanation of where and why these monies are being spent. It seems just plain wrong and irresponsible to do otherwise.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »