Main has been manipulating county offices for some time with ill effect
Commissioner John Sweet bristles whenever anyone dares to note the similarities between the newly created position of finance director and a county administrator. The latter, as everyone will remember, was brought before the voters in 2012 asking whether the county should transition to an administrator model of government and soundly defeated. Nevertheless, the local oligarchy that have funded the campaigns of Sweet and Commissioner Melissa Cribbins really pushed hard to centralize control of the county through an administrator. Empowering a finance director with many of the same duties, including hiring and firing authority across departments, is a slick way of getting the job done, hopefully without anyone noticing.
This isn’t their first attempt to pull this off but this time with Commissioner Bob Main in full support and cooperation they have actually succeeded and have filled the position in house, hiring deputy treasurer Megan Simms. Treasurer Mary Barton had assumed extra duties above and beyond the state mandated responsibilities of a treasurer over her sixteen years in office. Ironically, this began when tight finances forced the county to do away with a finance adviser already operating under the treasurer’s office years ago. The new finance director, is an at will position this time answerable only to the commissioners not the treasurer who will be assuming those duties and has also been given additional authority akin to an administrator. For example, Barton can not overrun other department heads on staffing matters, the new finance director can.
Mission accomplished. Only a few board approved tweaks to the job description and the commission will have itself an administrator. The next problem for the commission is to make the position as cost neutral as possible for the cash strapped county. After all the big sales pitch for an administrator has always been that the move would magically save the county “millions.” Simms’ new salary as director of finance already pays $6,000 per year more than Barton receives who will retire at the end of this year. A partial solution the board found is to declare the office of treasurer a ‘part time’ position and reduce the salary by half. The concept of a part time elected official is bizarre at best as an elected office is really about accepting responsibility and being answerable to the electorate and not a function of time. As a taxpayer I am paying the treasurer to make sure everything runs the way it is supposed to and to provide the checks and balances necessary to protect the people’s money. If the treasurer is willing to take on the responsibility and potential liability of that position and they can manage it in just a few hours a month, great! How often do you find County Clerk Terri Turi in the office, for example? Yet the clerk’s office always serves my needs when I go in and it is the elected clerk’s signature that certifies any documents. We are paying for a service that has an important public value, how much time it takes to accomplish that is irrelevant. For that matter, how often do you find the commissioners in the office?
This concept of a part time elected position is fueled by Barton herself as she is claiming her mandated duties only take up 10% of her time. For a list of the fiduciary responsibilities we are paying someone to accept and undertake look here. Referring to any compensated elected office as “part time” conjures images of the officeholder picking and choosing which duties to uphold or ignore each month.
Now we get to the treasurer’s race. So let’s be blunt. Candidate for treasurer, Matt Rowe’s bombastic hyperbolic speech combined with his cartoon radio voice makes him come across almost like a caricature of a politician. For me, at least, this sometimes has the effect of making it hard to take him seriously. Consequently, I can understand why the commissioners might find it unpalatable to work with him on a regular basis. Then there is Main’s ongoing “feud” with Rowe… Still, this is the people’s choice, or it is supposed to be, so they will just have deal with Rowe if he is elected. Or not. Almost immediately after being appointed finance director, Simms filed her candidacy for treasurer receiving endorsements from both Main and Cribbins. She had been rumored to be considering a run for several months but the timing has led many to believe this is an elaborate scheme to keep Rowe from office.
At the request of the commissioners the compensation committee met last week to reduce the treasurer’s salary. If Simm’s wins she will presumably work 110% time adding the 10% treasurer’s duties to her full time job as finance director. Ten percent of her time she will be answerable to the people and the rest of the time, 100% of the time by the commission’s own reckoning, she answers to the board as an at will employee controlling the bulk of her salary. Based on The World story Simm’s already appears pretty deferential but if she is elected I would prefer the treasurer position to be fully paid so that her deference was to the people and receive a stipend as finance director, not the other way around. In 2013 at a regular commission meeting discussing the need for a finance director Barton explained that during a regular state audit the county was advised that having one person performing all the functions Barton performs was not healthy should anything happen to that one person.
Main has been manipulating county offices for some time with ill effect beginning with Assessor Adam Colby. Once close, Main and Colby fell out and eventually Colby was recalled from office to be replaced by yet another Main pick, Steve Jansen. When two commissioners passed away within months of each other Main ignored an obvious choice as a replacement, Larry Van Elsberg who had garnered 14,000 votes against the late Nikki Whitty. Instead, Main maneuvered the appointments of interim commissioners Cam Parry and Fred Messerle to disastrous effect. Both turned on him and Messerle even ran against Main losing by only 14 votes. Main clearly doesn’t trust the electorate to make good choices but there is also no reason the electorate should trust in Main’s judgement given his choices have brought an enormous amount of turmoil to the county.
During the Fred and Cam era the structure advisory committee went around the county encouraging switching the county to a volunteer board of commissioners to offset the cost of a paid administrator. Committee member Bill Grile attended rotary clubs and other service clubs pitching this meme. Already Simms looks to have taken a couple of chores away from the commissioners so maybe they should be looking to cut their own salaries. Also, what’s to stop them from declaring the assessor, surveyor and clerk as part time positions and cutting those salaries?