By Scott Tibbs, August 15, 2012
On August 1, the Herald-Times published my guest editorial calling on the county commissioners to schedule their meetings at a time when the public can attend, instead of at 9:00 am on a Saturday morning when people need to be at work. There were a couple objections to this suggestion.
Some suggested that there could be added costs to the county in the form of overtime payments to county employees who need to attend an evening meeting. This is not a problem. As I noted in my editorial, the county council already meets at 5:30 p.m. - a full 90 minutes after county employees go home. Employees who need to be at the commissioner meeting can either use flex time during the pay period or bank compensatory time to take off at a later date. There is no need to pay overtime.
Furthermore, most county employees work 35 hours a week, so even compensatory time earned is one hour off for every one hour worked over, as opposed to one and a half hours for employees who work a 40 hour week. In addition, some employees who would be required to attend commissioner meetings are exempt employees, so they do not get overtime at all.
When the H-T surprisingly endorsed my idea two days later, the editorial board suggested the meeting could be Friday evening or Saturday "if there are weekly reports that arenít available until Friday." There is no "if" here. The reports need to be done by close of business on Thursday afternoon, with the checks printed and ready to be signed. That is not an issue. The commissioners should be approving payroll and AP claims before they are distributed anyway, so a Thursday evening meeting is better.
There are legitimate reasons why the commissioners may want to meet on Friday morning, such as convenience for employees who would need to work outside of normal business hours. However, there is no legitimate reason why they have to meet on Friday morning. Let me repeat, there is not one single legitimate reason why the county commissioners have to meet on Friday morning. None. The ability of the taxpayers to attend their meetings should trump reasons of convenience, as it does for the county council. After all, county government is here to serve us, not the other way around.
The commissioners' inaccessible meetings have been a problem for a long time, and both Republicans and Democrats are to blame for this situation. (It should be noted that the Democrats have had a 2-1 majority in 2007-2008 and a 3-0 majority since 2009 and have made no move to make the meetings more accessible.) There's no reason it should not be fixed. Nelson Shaffer has already endorsed this reform. The other three candidates for county commissioner should take a public position on this issue before early voting starts in October.
Following are previous articles I have written on this topic:
County government meeting schedules discourage public participation -- August 17, 2005
County meeting times discourage public participation -- October 17, 2008
County government meeting times should change -- November 13, 2008
Making county government accessible: change we can believe in -- February 3, 2009
Boards and commissions hiding from the public -- August 10, 2011