Cass County Candidate Forum – September 25, 2012

Cass County Candidates for office met the public last night in a Q&A session conducted by county Chambers of Commerce.  With a few exceptions, the candidates’ responses were best described as…uniformity, conformity and blandness. Most of those who followed their opponent answering a question said, “What he said…I agree with…” There was little presented to make a particular candidate stand out.

Most unsatisfying.

Let’s take the six candidates running for the three Commission seats: Cox vs. Wilson for Presiding Commissioner, Odom vs. Duncan for North Commissioner, Hoke vs. Scavuzzo for South Commissioner. The first question was how would they resolve the recently discovered million dollar plus overspending by the County. The common response was the new accounting software installed at the insistence of the County Auditor would solve all problems. The software had alarms to notify the Commission and County officials when an expenditure exceeded the budget or available funds.

Software alone will not solve the spending problems in the county. It is a tool, like all processes and procedures. Any tool can be misused or ignored. Relying solely on a tool is folly. It is the elected officials who use the tool that will solve problems.

Five of the six candidates must have rehearsed their answers. They all said the same and presented no other solutions.  Jeff Cox was the exception.  His answer to the question was to use the tool, the software package to prioritize spending. Those with the highest priority received funding, those with less or lower priority would have less. The county funds would have to be shifted to rebuild the state-mandated emergency fund that had been raided by the 2010 commissioners.  Cox has a track-record of responsible spending, budgeting and cutting taxes.

None of the other five candidates mentioned rebuilding the emergency fund except in passing and none spoke of cutting taxes to attract business. Some advocated using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to attract business to the county. TIF is a  temporary solution. Business may be attracted…for the duration of the TIF. Once the TIF has expired, marginal businesses move to the next TIF. Cutting taxes retains the incentive for business—and jobs, to come to the county and to remain.

Since the other commission candidates, Cox excepted, had no real platform nor plan to change the methods of county government, let me make some suggestions.

1. The 2010 commissioner raids on county funds were greatly aided due to a significant lack of transparency in government. The commissioners maintained an aura of secrecy that kept the public in ignorance. Minutes, if they can be found, are uniformly non-informative. Much as the minutes were summarized and contain no details.  It was not until this year that the written minutes used voice recordings as a source. 

If the Commission is to have transparency, those voice recordings must be archived and made available on demand to the public. I would suggest those sound recordings be made available through the county’s website within a week of the Commission meeting. In addition, publish the written minutes via a protected .PDF file on the county website. That would allow the public to compare the official written minutes to the source, the voice recordings. Sometimes the most significant items can be found in the sections that were summarized in the written minutes.

2.  By law, Commission meetings must be scheduled and posted in advance at the Courthouse. Why could those meeting notices not be posted on the county’s website as well?  More people have access to the internet now than have the ability to trek to the courthouse daily to see if there are any meeting notices. The meeting notice on the website could be accompanied by the meeting agenda.

3. Shift Commission meetings to the evening. When I attended the Commission meeting last week it was scheduled at 2PM.  The attending public was mostly retired folks (like me) and the self-employed who could take off for a couple of hours. Few others attended. They couldn’t get off work.  I propose the Commission schedule regular meetings in the evening around 7PM. In fact, all of the Commission meetings should be held in the evening except for emergency meetings.

Raymore city government is a good example for the county to follow. The council agendas are posted in advance. All meetings are announced in advance. The transparency of the council is very high.  There are lessons the county can learn by observing how Raymore conducts business.

I’ve written more about the Commission than I’d intended. The quote of the night came from Sheriff Dwight Diehl. He was asked what he’d do with criminals migrating from the metro area and committing crimes in Cass County.  “Put them in jail!” he said.

It was a very poor question.

I’ll have a few short comments tomorrow on the Sheriff’s and County Administrator’s race.