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December 18, 2013

MOORE: There’s blame to go around for fiscal mess

— I found the editorial response the Floyd County Commissioners published Nov. 6 to be interesting.

I agree that they do not deserve all of the blame for the county’s fiscal dilemma. I also agree that “it is disingenuous and misleading ... to create a false narrative,” so I am curious at their own use of such tactics, even if it was unintentional.

For example, they blame “the fiscal impact of a nationally known murder case and the shortcomings of a new officeholder” as “major contributing factors” to our situation. However, they neglected to mention that they had already set aside significant funds for the third Camm trial, but that much of that money was diverted for other projects, leaving us now scrambling to pay the bill for that trial. So, blaming the David Camm case is misleading.

And I can only describe as disingenuous their comments about former county Auditor Darin Coddington. The commissioners were aware of Coddington’s performance as early as Feb. 14, 2012, yet they chose to ignore the warning signs and approve almost every spending request put before them.

I personally witnessed at least three of the auditor’s fiscal misadventures during 2012 alone — his literal rubber-stamping of prosecutor Keith Henderson’s use of almost $28,000 for his personal legal fees; his botching of the entire county’s 2012 spring allotment from the state Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF); and his faulty advice to the commissioners to donate the county’s entire Humana insurance premium refund of almost $700,000 to county employees instead of returning it to the proper account (which they were inclined to do until several residents raised public objections).

Only in the Henderson matter did a commissioner, Chuck Freiberger, question the auditor’s incorrect advice and seek the return of the misspent funds. In June 2011, Henderson got the commissioners to approve the use of county funds ($10,000) to keep him on the Camm case while diverting almost three times that amount ($27,539) to pay his personal attorney to defend him against an ethics complaint.

Incredibly, even after discovering that they had been deceived, Freiberger’s fellow commissioners chose instead to provide political cover for their fellow Republican Henderson and have refused Freiberger’s several motions seeking an explanation from Henderson, let alone the return of our money. Apparently, they value the local GOP’s reputation more than their duty to the rest of us.

Coddington’s incompetence was even defended on other occasions for the same reasons of partisan loyalty. When the Georgetown Township Trustee was forced to seek the commissioners’ help in rectifying the auditor’s mistakes (that left his township with no funds), Commissioner Mark Seabrook — normally much more careful with tax dollars — verbally attacked the trustee at a public meeting Aug. 7, 2012, labeling a legitimate request for help as “political” and telling the trustee that his (and our) only recourse was to vote against Coddington in 2014. Has the oath of office been amended to read “party before citizens?”

The commissioners are involved in the budget process and approve many expenditures before they are considered by the county council. In fact, it was Seabrook who asked the council to allocate Henderson’s funds for legal fees. Both bodies bear responsibility and, hopefully, the council has learned to exercise the proper degree of independence from, and scrutiny of, the board of commissioners.

It’s not just the commissioners. There is plenty of blame to go around:

• The law does not require any qualifications or experience to be a county auditor, and Coddington is a poster child for why we need that changed.

• Blind partisanship played a large role. Our Republican commissioners clearly put the interests of their party above those of the taxpayers and our Republican-dominated county chose as our auditor an unqualified truck driver because the qualified candidate was a member of the ‘wrong’ party.

• Our public boards rely far too much on the advice of their consultants and they rarely, if ever, scrutinize the advice or figures of these “experts,” even when there’s reason for doubt.

• Until now, our commissioners and council have spent like drunken sailors, believing that a penny saved is a penny wasted ... or maybe a vote wasted?

• Worst of all, most county residents are relatively apathetic so we get the government we deserve. When was the last time you attended a public meeting that wasn’t about your own backyard? Good government only happens when the politicians know we’re watching them. This is a wake-up call, people. What will you do to help change things?

— Joseph Moore, Georgetown Township, Floyd County

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