Cooper: Commissioners, is public discussion bad?

Cooper: Commissioners, is public discussion bad?

November 3rd, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

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If a majority of Hamilton County commissioners don't believe it's good business to take two votes on measures as important as annual budgets and tax increases, so be it.

We disagree with them, but we wonder why such a policy is not even worth discussing.

When Commissioner Tim Boyd's resolution to change county policy and enact such a measure died at Wednesday's meeting without getting a second, it meant eight commissioners didn't even want to debate the proposal's merits.

They did not want to talk about putting in an extra week between votes, where they would have more time to deliberate, check numbers and consult with constituents, and where the public would have more time to give them feedback.

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We acknowledge that Boyd was upset because he did not believe this year's de facto tax increase had enough public airing, given that it came two months after the commission had already passed a balanced budget with no tax increase. He said he also did not get a one-on-one briefing from County Mayor Jim Coppinger about the proposed increase like the eight other commissioners and admitted being bruised when his proposal to postpone the tax increase vote for a week did not get a second.

Nevertheless, all that was water under the bridge. The tax increase measure — enacted by returning property tax levels to the previously certified rate rather than keeping this year's newly assessed rate — was in the books. It wasn't going away, and the commissioner's proposal concerned many budgets and proposed tax increases in the future.

While we believe the de facto tax increase, which funds schools, a new jail and a new sewage treatment plant, was the right thing to do, we also feel two votes on such critical financial issues lends seriousness and transparency to the process. We believe it forces commissioners to make certain they have considered all of the ramifications of the matter before taking that second and decisive vote.

When Boyd, during the comment period at the end of the meeting, chastised commissioners for not standing "up for the basic elements of transparency and good government," several commissioners took umbrage.

In response, Commissioner Sabrena Smedley asked County Attorney Rheubin Taylor if commissioners could delay or table any resolution if they felt they needed more time. Taylor said yes.

In truth, though, a tabled resolution would work little differently than a two-step vote. Either way gives commissioners and the public some breathing room, some study room, some discussion room. And that's all Boyd was seeking. So why not certify the two-vote proposal?

But short of certifying it, commissioners, isn't it at least worth discussing?

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