Friday, October 29, 2010

TAKING HEAT: Questioning County Hall's screwball status quo

From budgets to human resources, Boone County government must change
COLUMBIA, 10/29/10  (Commentary) --  I about spit out my coffee when Columbia Missourian columnist George Kennedy implied that Boone County Commission candidate Ed Robb was being "un-statesmanlike" for doing what Kennedy normally does -- questioning the status quo.
That was right before Trib publisher Hank Waters chided Robb for "criticizing a competent incumbency," and promptly endorsed his opponent for guarding a status quo Waters has many reasons to embrace.   
County Hall's "competent incumbency" brought this comment -- about Boone County Commissioners -- from maintenance supervisor Ken Roberts, forced out of his job in 2006 just a year before retirement over a petty, Commission-driven scandal.    
"They’re not organized, they don’t plan ahead, and then they get in some kind of crisis situation and they want me to save them.  Save them I did.  I just didn’t take time to save myself."
The budgetary status quo had County Commissioners buying the building that once housed Jerry’s School of Hairstyling at 217 N. Ninth St. for $262,500, then -- with no plans for it -- turning around and selling it a few months later to attorney Bob Murray.
The fiscal status quo had County Commissioners "freezing" county employee salaries.
And hoping to fill vacant property they spent millions to buy with no plan:
And (now infamously) scrapping with that guy in Georgia over scrap metal:
Strange days
Calling Robb's campaign "the strangest this year," Mr. Kennedy (below) took issue with the former state rep "questioning the workloads" and "criticizing the abilities of the county officials he’ll have to work with if he wins."
But I've never heard Robb make anything personal.  In fact, he told the Tribune that "all county officeholders are 'quality people' and that he has no complaints about the service they provide." 
His workload questions boiled down to state law.  By definition, elected county officials are "part time."  But in Boone, they earn full-time salaries of $82,000 and up, much higher than the state average, and problematic when Commissioners refuse even modest salary increases for the average County employee.
"Of course, Robb's a Republican, and they’re all Democrats," Mr. Kennedy noted.   "But partisanship hasn’t – up til now – played much of a role in the conduct of Boone County government."
That's because, with rare exception, every elected official in Boone County has called himself or herself a Democrat.  Like many of us, Mr. Kennedy likes the Democrat party's guiding mantra -- help the average working person, help those who can't help themselves, make government work for the little guy and gal. 
But that's hardly been happening in the halls of Boone County government in recent years, and by implying that Ed Robb's challenge to decades-long single-party supremacy
is "un-statesmanlike,"  Mr. Kennedy naively assumes that the label "Democrat" means as much to our elected officials as it does to him.  
In too many cases, it doesn't.  That it takes a vocal member of an opposing party to bring this point home is what politics in America is -- or should be -- all about.

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