In the July 2015 issue of The Observer, the League’s observer, Eleanor Finn, was lauded in Lyn Widmyer’s column:
Shepherdstown resident Eleanor Finn has entered the record books in the category of “Most county commission meetings attended by a member of the public.”
Eleanor has observed the Jefferson County Commission on behalf of the Jefferson County League of Women Voters since 2011. She listens for issues of interest to the League and monitors public outreach and education efforts. Most attendees at commission meetings arrive for a specific agenda item, stay to hear the discussion and then leave. Not Eleanor. She patiently listens to multiple agenda items and takes copious notes.
If you really want to appreciate Eleanor’s efforts, visit the county commission web site and listen to a webcast of a meeting. I guarantee you will quickly understand why Eleanor’s commitment is so special. Be sure to sit in a really uncomfortable chair as you listen to fully recreate Eleanor’s experience.
Eleanor recently shared her observations with the Jefferson County Commission. The report, available at the LWV web site (lwv-jcwv.org), applauds many of the practices followed by the commission and suggests improvements to encourage better and more transparent government.
The recommendations should be a check-list for anyone interested in making county government more open. We should all insist they be addressed by county commissioners. They include:
- When people testify at a public hearing, their comments should be summarized by staff and written responses provided for consideration by the commission. The planning department routinely does this but other departments do not. This approach would encourage people to testify and make them feel they have been heard.
- A “space needs study” has been discussed for years but nothing has been made public. (When I was on the commission, the lack of a systematic approach to future building needs was very frustrating. Millions of taxpayers’ dollars sit in an account, earmarked for future building needs. Those dollars should be allocated thoughtfully and only after an open public process.)
- Once a policy is adopted, it should be followed. No “one-time exemptions”, whether for building permits or candidates for positions who appear at the last minute.
- The commission has oversight responsibility for paid and volunteer commissions and board whom they appoint. These groups should be held to the same transparency requirements: posting of a timely agenda packet including supporting documentation, courtesy to the public, and the same ethical standards as the county commission.
The LWV presentation did not generate any discussion amongst the county commissioners. I am hopeful this will come later, once the commissioners take the time to review the LWV’s written report.
If the thought of attending county commission meetings or listening to tape recordings of meetings is as inviting as a root canal, consider reviewing the minutes. They can be viewed on the county commission website, are easy to read and provide great insight into current topics before the commission. They also record how commissioners vote.
Jefferson County Commissioners receive a salary of $41,400 per year, not including benefits. Eleanor and her fellow League of Women Voter observers receive no compensation. The value of their commitment? Priceless.
Reprinted with permission from The Observer.