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"A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens." Nelson Mandela 1918 - 2013
The commission discussed the position of finance director or finance manager to takeover functions currently performed by the county treasurer, Mary Barton. Bob Main encouraged the board to consider hiring one or two people who would answer to the treasurer to learn duties that include tax collection and budget management as well as accounts payable and payroll rather than hire a single individual operating as a chief financial officer reporting directly to the board. Main’s suggestion would serve the same purpose, which is place these functions into the hands of a paid employee rather than an elected official and might even offer more redundancy but neither John Sweet or Melissa Cribbins agreed.
Members of the audience voiced concerns that hiring a “finance director” is a stealthy workaround to the public’s objection to hiring an administrator. The county clearly needs to place these duties currently handled by Barton into other hands but if the board is to allay these fears the public must be given very specific details about the scope of authority and more importantly the limits placed on this new position. Sweet advised me after the meeting that they would publish the expected duties, and I hope limits, placed upon this job on the county website.
Sweet also expressed some dismay that the two commissioners’ motives would be called into question and I reminded him that both he and Cribbins had accepted sizable campaign contributions from the CCAP and are each recognized as being tightly affiliated with the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. Both organizations are perceived as coordinating to ramrod rapid and sweeping changes to county governance. As long as they both carry that “stigma”, I told him, their motives will always be suspect.
The other consideration here is timing. It is understandable to begin a new job and want to enact signature changes out of the starting gate but both new commissioners may also need to work at the job for awhile before they can adequately assess the impact of these changes. The public may naturally object to rapid changes in favor of a more measured approach.
Sweet got a lesson in this very matter when he made the suggestion at the previous BOC meeting to move the Veterans Service Office from Coquille to the North Bend Annex and have the department report to and operate under the umbrella of Health and Human Services. Veterans united in their objection to being placed in the position of walking into the mental health department to deal with their veterans’ benefits and pummeled Sweet at a weekly veterans’ breakfast and attended yesterday’s meeting en mass. To his credit, Sweet heard their concerns and determined to back off on making any organizational changes to the department “at this time”.