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  • Last modified 248 days ago (Dec. 21, 2018)

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A dilly-dilly of a deal

If you’ve never dragged yourself up the courthouse steps, plopped your rear onto an uncomfortably cold metal folding chair, and witnessed for hours on end our county commissioners in their full glory, you’ve missed a fine bit of drama.

Think of a scene from Medieval times when a king holds court for a steady progression of peons seeking audiences with His Majesty — except in our case not one but three monarchs, soon to be five, are sitting on their thrones, ready to issue after interminably long discussion thumbs up, thumbs down, or a shouted “Dilly! Dilly!” to each request.

Without knowing it, commissioners prove each week why a county administrator, already rejected by voters, would be a complete waste of the typically inflated salary envisioned for the position.

Monday was no exception.

First they sat and tediously reviewed every automatic pay raise for county employees.

Then they heard how a group of volunteer ambulance attendants wanted pagers like they used to have. Legalistic wrangling over who would own and maintain the pagers if the county sprang for half their cost ensued, but never once did commissioners appear to reach out to experts already on the payroll about whether the request was valid.

In fact, experts — except for legal counsel, another costly position — were bypassed altogether. And that’s unfortunate, because it’s clear commissioners don’t understand that the county’s new radios haven’t just changed frequencies. They also have changed from being like old-fashioned radios to being more like modern cell phones, dramatically increasing the cost of and almost completely obviating the need for pagers that cannot transmit back so dispatchers know a call was heard.

Next, they spent a huge amount of time hearing an appeal from a fired ambulance attendant, poring over minute details of his admitted misdeeds. Imagine Congress being called into session to hear the appeal of every letter carrier who lost his or her job.

At least they eventually concluded that the decision ultimately belonged to the county’s new ambulance director, but only after hearing not only from the attendant but also his partner and polling each individual commissioner about his or her feelings, which then devolved into a question of whether the attendant should be allowed back part-time pending arrival of a permanent director.

True, having an administrator could have kept all these items and more off the commissioners’ agenda — at minimum inserting them as informational items or items on a consent agenda.

But that’s not the way commissioners work. And, in truth, it’s not entirely their fault, and it’s not just a matter of who’s serving in these roles. It’s our fault, too.

If we as voters are unhappy with how our road is graded or don’t like something some county employee did, we’re all too eager to buttonhole our commissioner and demand an audience for our grievance. And our commissioners — past and present — have been all too eager to grant such audiences.

Having an administrator won’t change that. It merely means we’ll have spent a heck of a lot of money hiring someone whose likely role will be to shepherd us to the commissioners like some comely model shepherds contestants to a game show host.

Unless both the commission and we, the people who want something from the county, agree that an administrator would actually be empowered to make decisions, all we’d be doing is hiring a very expensive Vanna White to decorate our increasingly overcrowded commission chamber and perhaps engage in a few words of less-than-witty repartee with commissioners before they do the same things they’ve always done.

Just as it did with economic development, the county is putting the cart before the horse, and it isn’t even getting a very good horse in the process. It’s wanting to throw money at a problem rather than take the little steps necessary to actually start resolving it.

In the case of an administrator, that means hiring good people to run various operations and letting the public know that their decisions will be final — that they will be overruled only if they demonstrate a pattern of making wrong decisions, rather than re-litigating each decision individually.

In the case of economic development, it means supporting small-scale efforts at building consensus rather than expecting to bring in big guns to try, ultimately in vain, to force consensus where none exists.

In Medieval times, perhaps the monarch would bring in a sorcerer to wave a magic wand and resolve all concerns. Both we and our present day triumvirate seem all too eager to throw taxpayer money around in search of magic wands when the real answer is within ourselves.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Dec. 21, 2018

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