Greeson: Travel two-step denied but still strides from commission transparency

Greeson: Travel two-step denied but still strides from commission transparency

May 17th, 2018 by Jay Greeson in Opinion Columns

It's been a few years since we discussed the "Sneaky Six."

You remember that, right? It was the beginning of the end of discretionary funds for Hamilton County commissioners — that six-figure kitty that proponents called opportunities to help good- intentioned community groups and what right-thinking folks viewed, at least in part, as a vote-buying slush fund.

Well, if you're scoring at home and wondering about the purposes of journalism, put one in the win column for good guys Wednesday.

Jay Greeson

Jay Greeson

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

A bad idea was hatched to double the travel budget for each commissioner.

Yes, the travel budgets, which if doubled, would be more than the salaries of the commissioners. Yes, the same travel budget that went lightly used by almost all of the commissioners. Yes, the same travel budget that, when those funds go unused, does not go back into the general budget, but is available at the "discretion" of the commissioners.

Sounds fishy, right?

Well, thanks to the reporting by this paper's Judy Walton and the thoughts of the Free Press editorial page, Wednesday's commission meeting ended that proposal.

A quick 7-1 vote derailed the work behind the scenes to get back a sliver of those discretionary funds.

Heck, when this was first announced I had one loyal reader ask me what alliterative nickname those seeking the travel bump could expect.

Let's call them the "traveling two."

Commission Chairman Randy Fairbanks said two of his colleagues asked to have commissioners' travel money doubled in next year's budget. He said Wednesday it was the request of Greg Beck and Dr. Warren Mackey.

Fairbanks obliged the request. In the spectrum of a nine-figure budget, this is a rounding error.

Beck, whose distinguished public service career will end this year after his defeat in a primary challenge this month, changed course and voted against the measure.

Commissioners Greg Martin and Joe Graham were vocally against the travel-budget increase from the very start. Fairbanks voted against it, as well.

Mackey was not in attendance.

Here's the rub: It's not the money; it's the principle.

Especially from a bunch that has banged the transparency drum consistently. But that drum is not an instrument. It's a value.

It also is an expectation from those who depend on you. It is, in terms of public service, as much about honesty as it is clarity.

The one vote for it? That belonged to Chester Bankston, and in some ways this side of Martin and Graham, his may have been the most transparent part of this song and dance.

Disagree with Bankston's position all you want, but at least he put his name on it and shared his position.

And if you think there was anything close to transparency from the commission in this matter, ask yourself this question:

If Walton's story and the details of the travel tango had not come out, what do you think the vote would have been?

We'd guess it would have been much closer to 7-2 in support.

Transparency when someone else is holding the light is not true transparency, friends.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6343.

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