LWV Presents Observer Report to County Commission

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF JEFFERSON COUNTY

STATEMENT TO COUNTY COMMISSION  JUNE 18, 2015

INTRODUCTION

THE LWV BELIEVES THAT DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT DEPENDS UPON INFORMED AND ACTIVE PARTICIPATION AT ALL LEVELS. THE LEAGUE FURTHER BELIEVES THAT ALL GOVERNMENTAL BODIES MUST PROTECT THE CITIZENS RIGHT TO KNOW BY GIVING ADEQUATE NOTICE OF PROPOSED ACTIONS, HOLDING PUBLIC MEETINGS AND MAKING PUBLIC RECORDS ACCESSIBLE.

I BECAME THE COMMISSION OBSERVER IN JUNE 2011 AND HAVE BEEN TO MOST MEETINGS SINCE THEN.  IDEALLY, OBSERVERS MONITOR BOTH THE ISSUES BEING DISCUSSED AND THE PROCESS. THERE IS NO PERSONAL OR PARTISAN AGENDA. IT IS HOPED THAT THE OBSERVER PRESENCE WILL ENCOURAGE BETTER AND MORE TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT.  AN EFFORT IS UNDERWAY TO FIND OBSERVERS FOR OTHER BOARD AND COMMISSION MEETINGS.

GENERALLY EFFECTIVE PRACTICES

DURING THE LAST FEW YEARS A NUMBER OF IMPROVEMENTS HAVE BEEN NOTED:

1. MORE TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT: AGENDA AND INFORMATION PACKETS POSTED BY MON AFTERNOON PRECEDING  THE THURSDAY MEETING

2. OPEN MEETINGS AND ETHICS TRAINING FOR  COUNTY STAFF, APPOINTED AND ELECTED OFFICIALS AS WELL AS VOLUNTEER COUNTY BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS IS CONDUCTED ANNUALLY.  STRONG ENCOURAGEMENT FOR ATTENDANCE WOULD BE GOOD.

3. THERE HAS BEEN BETTER POSTING OF VACANCIES FOR VOLUNTEER BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS.  THE NEW WEBSITE MAY ALSO HELP WITH ADVERTISING.

4. PUBLIC COMMENT: 3 MINUTE TIME LIMIT FOR ANY SPEAKER IS COURTEOUSLY ENFORCED. THE ABILITY TO BE PUT ON A COMING AGENDA IF ONE HAS LONGER COMMENT COULD BE MORE CLEAR, AND SUCH AGENDA REQUEST FORMS COULD BE AVAILABLE AT MEETINGS.

5. GREAT STRIDES HAVE BEEN MADE IN CONTROLLING THE BUDGET, GETTING  DEPARTMENT HEADS AND ELECTEDS INTO THE PROCESS AND REQUIRING JUSTIFICATION FOR BUDGET REQUESTS. THE NEW FINANCE DIRECTOR, TIM STANTON, HAS BEEN MOST HELPFUL  TO BOTH THE COMMISSION AND THE PUBLIC. IT IS MUCH APPRECIATED THAT MATERIAL IS PART OF THE COMMISSION MEETING PACKETS, AND ALSO AVAILABLE ONLINE. TIM  MAKES A PUBLICLY UNDERSTANDABLE  PRESENTATION WHEN HE IS BEFORE THE COMMISSION.  WHAT SERVICES AT WHAT COST IS BECOMING MORE CLEAR.

6. THE ADOPTION OF JOB DESCRIPTIONS AND SALARY GRADES SHOULD IMPROVE HIRING PRACTICES AND PROVIDE MORE CONSISTENCY. THE COMMISSION HAS BEEN DILIGENT ABOUT QUESTIONING REQUESTS FOR NEW HIRES  AND FOLLOWING THESE GUIDELINES.

7. GREAT STRIDES HAVE BEEN MADE IN IT.  MANY THANKS TO TOM REILLY AND THE IT SQUAD FOR THEIR  EFFORTS . UPGRADING TECHNOLOGY FOR THE COUNTY IS AN INVESTMENT, NOT A COST.

8. IT IS  A GOOD IDEA FOR THE COMMISSION TO HOLD COUNTY-WIDE DISCUSSIONS ABOUT INFRASTRUCTURE  DEVELOPMENT AND FINANCING.  THIS GOES DIRECTLY TO THE GUIDELINES IN THE NEW 2035 ENVISION JC COMPREHENSIVE PLAN  IN TERMS OF WHERE DEVELOPMENT SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED. WE HOPE THE TALKS  WILL ALSO ADDRESS EQUITY ISSUES IN TERMS OF SPREADING THE COST FOR DEVELOPMENT.

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

1. HOW WILL THE COMMISSION IMPLEMENT THE NEW 2035 COMPREHENSIVE PLAN?
RECOMMENDATIONS COMING FROM THE PLANNING COMMISSION WOULD BENEFIT FROM A REVIEW OF THOSE  GUIDELINES FOR GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT.

2. IT IS STILL NOT CLEAR WHERE A CITIZEN SHOULD BEGIN WITH AN ISSUE OR PROBLEM.  TALK TO A COMMISSIONER, GO TO PLANNING, BUILDING  ETC STAFF, MAKE A CC PUBLIC COMMENT? PERHAPS THE NEW WEBSITE WILL SPELL OUT THE PROCEDURE.  ALSO, REMEMBER THAT NOT EVERYONE HAS COMPUTER ACCESS AND CONTINUE  KINDLY TO DIRECT AND EDUCATE  ON OTHER WAYS TO APPROACH ISSUES.

3. THE COMMISSION HAS OVERSIGHT RESPONSIBILITY FOR PAID AND VOLUNTEER COMMISSIONS AND BOARDS TO WHOM YOU APPOINT MEMBERS.  STATUTORY REGULATIONS MAY VARY BUT THESE GROUPS SHOULD BE HELD TO THE SAME TRANSPARENCY REQUIREMENTS: POSTING OF A TIMELY AGENDA PACKET INCLUDING SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION, MEETING AND AUDIENCE COURTESY, AND THE SAME ETHICAL STANDARDS AS THE COUNTY COMMISSION.  A QUARTERLY PUBLIC PRESENTATION REPORT FROM THESE GROUPS, NOT JUST A WRITTEN SUBMISSION  BACK TO THE COMMISSION, WOULD BE HELPFUL IN TERMS OF TRANSPARENCY AND PUBLIC INFORMATION.

4. TWO YEARS AGO THERE HAD BEEN DISCUSSION ABOUT ON WHICH BOARDS/COMMISSIONS THE  CC LIAISONS COULD VOTE.  SOME THEY CAN, SOME THEY CAN’T.  IT WOULD BE GOOD TO CLARIFY THE REASON FOR THIS DISPARITY  FOR THE PUBLIC.

5. WHAT HAPPENS TO COMMENTS PEOPLE MAKE AT PUBLIC HEARINGS?  THE PLANNING DEPARTMENT IS VERY GOOD ABOUT PUTTING THEM INTO A MATRIX ALONG WITH THE PROBLEM DISCUSSED.  WE ARE NOT AWARE OF EFFORTS BY OTHER BOARDS/COMMISSIONS TO DO THE SAME.  THIS WOULD ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO COMMENT AND TO FEEL THEY HAVE BEEN HEARD.  AT LEAST THERE WOULD BE A PUBLISHED RECORD TO WHICH CITIZENS COULD REFER.

6. THE LEAGUE CONTINUES TO BE INTERESTED IN THE USE OF IMPACT FEES. THEY HELP TO FOSTER GROWTH AND TO INSURE THAT DEVELOPMENT PAYS FOR ITSELF.  WE WILL BE INTERESTED IN THE DISCUSSION FROM THE JCDA ABOUT THE EFFECT OF REDUCING COMMERCIAL IMPACT FEES TO $1.00 IN JULY 2013- JUNE 2015.  WE WILL ALSO BE INTERESTED IN THE POSSIBLE USE OF IMPACT FEES FOR INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT.

7. THERE IS A CONTINUING ISSUE ABOUT REVIEWS OF CONTRACTS FOR ANYTHING OVER $10,000. THIS SHOULD BE DONE EVERY 3 YEARS. COST CHANGES OVER TIME, SOME UP SOME DOWN.

8. A SPACE NEEDS STUDY WAS PROPOSED MORE THAN 2 YEARS AGO TO DETERMINE BUILDING USE. THIS HAS NOT RESURFACED IN PUBLIC, SO WE DO NOT KNOW HOW THOROUGH IT WAS, OR EVEN IF IT WAS COMPLETED. THIS IS IMPORTANT IN TERMS OF EFFICIENT USE OF SPACE . MANY COUNTY BUILDINGS ARE HISTORIC, NOT EASILY HEATED OR COOLED OR MADE ADA COMPLIANT.  WHAT IS THE BEST USE OF EXISTING BUILDINGS? WHAT IS NEEDED, WHERE? DOWNTOWN, INDUSTRIAL PARK?
THESE DISCUSSIONS WOULD BENEFIT FROM TAKING PLACE IN PUBLIC, WITH LESS FREQUENT EXECUTIVE SESSIONS.

9. JEFFERSON COUNTY HAS NOT HAD POLICIES GOVERNING A LOT OF ACTIVITIES. THAT IS BEING REMEDIED PIECEMEAL. THIS IS PROGRESS.  HOWEVER, 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.

10. THE LEAGUE LOOKS FORWARD TO YOUR CONTINUING CONCERN WITH BEHAVIORAL  HEALTH ISSUES AND PROMOTION OF A SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT FACILITY NEARBY. SUCH A FACILITY WOULD HELP INDIVIDUALS AND THEIR FAMILIES, PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICIALS, COUNTY COSTS AND HELP MAKE JEFFERSON COUNTY AN EVEN BETTER PLACE TO LIVE AND WORK.

11. WE ARE PLEASED THAT YOU HAVE HELD QUARTERLY  “MEET YOUR COUNTY COMMISSIONER”  EVENTS AT VARYING LOCATIONS , SO AS TO BE AVAILABLE TO LOCAL RESIDENTS.  WE HOPE THIS WILL CONTINUE AND LOOK FORWARD TO THE NEXT ONE.

FINALLY,
THE LEAGUE COMMENDS THE MANY HOURS OF DEDICATED SERVICE THE COMMISSIONERS PUT IN TO FULFILL THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF COUNTY GOVERNMENT. 

THANK YOU. Eleanor Finn

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