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County Council Meeting June 7

Small issues, but tense meeting
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

In a sense, nothing of great import happened at yesterday's Council Meeting. The agenda was quite large but most were ordinances that already had their obligatory first or second readings. And then there were the appointments, most of which were straightforward, and subject to a simple vote. So, Council should breeze through the whole agenda and we would all be home early. Wrong - perhaps very wrong, if one waited to hear a comment on the "executive session" that was called at the end of the Council meeting. We didn't stay.

The rocks that impeded the speed of the meeting were the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for Council Employees and an issue relating to the hiring of the consultant "to deliver Transportation Sales - Tax related highway, road, street, bridge and drainage projects".

The war over COLA has already seen a couple of battles in Finance Committee meetings. This was the first skirmish in Council and like those at the Committee meetings, was prolonged. But the outcome was the same. Council members Scott and Fava were very strongly opposed to any attempt to use the COLA adjustment to raise lower-level wages by an amount greater than that given to other employees. They said that COLA adjustments should apply to all equally and that any adjustments because of inequity should wait until the compensation study latter this year. They were later joined by Council member Bostic. The Council members left no doubt that they considered their position seriously, and argued strongly.

As could be expected, the proponents of the proposed COLA responded as seriously and strongly. All employees would receive a COLA adjustment, 6% for those earning less that $25,870 and 3% for those earning above. This would take up an amount slightly less that the estimated $2.7 million cost if all employees were to receive a 3.3% increase, the increase in the Consumer Price Index since the last adjustment. Council member Darby said the COLA increase were not mandatory but everybody was getting a sizable increase. He also pointed to the injustice of some employees on salaries less than $18,000 a year and in one case, a person who had been working for the County for 20 years. He and others said the split COLA adjustment was a one-time thing. It reflected the need to make some adjustment for inequities that had developed in the long time since the last compensation study.

Again, the proposed COLA recommendation was approved. We hope this issue can now be buried.

Council member Pryor wants to see all major contracts before approval
The second confrontation came when Council member Pryor objected to staff being allowed to award a contract without it being viewed by Council. Before Council was the request to "authorize staff to enter contract negotiations and approve a contract award for program management and other services" The preamble to the document before Council was "as approved by Council, the County's strategy to deliver Transportation Sales tax-related highway, road, street, bridge and drainage projects is to employ a Program Management firm. The firm can also compete and periodically update a Comprehensive Transportation Plan".

Council was to vote last night to award a $3.3 million contract to the LPA Group to do the above things. Whoa, said Council member Pryor. I am not going to approve any contract unless I see it and am able to review it. He noted that he had seen some other awarded contracts before Council that had not been scrutinized sufficiently.

Our first reaction was to agree with Council member Pryor. Council member Scott rose and said that the position was not really as it seemed. The Staff had done due diligence. Earlier this year the Council has requested proposals and 4 firms responded. Staff had evaluated the submissions and the LPA group (www.lpagroup.com) had been chosen. Yes a contract would be agreed to but there still would be negotiations between the Council and the LPA to determine the finer points. It was not that the final shape of the contract was being approved. Council could have input into this if it wished. Council just needed to approve the body with whom it would be dealing.

Beyond, this the discussion moved into semantics, much of which, we confess, we missed. Council member Darby suggested that the destination of the route implied by Council member Pryor and that of the proposal were the same, but the routes were different.

Council member Pryor may be at the losing end of this discussion. But we confess to sympathy with his cause. Nobody is suggesting inadequacy or incompetence of Staff. But a $3.3 million contact is important in the context of County Council. Council members may well "rubber stamp" it. But what is lost if a copy of any proposed contract is given to Council members prior to a vote? If there are no issues, no time is lost. If there is an issue, surely it needs to be discussed. And who is to define "finer points". Maybe these could be points of substance in the eyes of some Council members.

Who said the job was easy?
Council member Bostic handled himself well when he was verbally assaulted last night be a citizen speaking in the Citizen Participation period. The speaker assailed the Council member, largely for not doing enough for the Redtop Community's effort to procure property near the intersection of Bees Ferry Road and Highway 17. The property is in the member's area.

This issue drew a large number of residents to a previous Finance Committee meeting to speak for action. At issue was a large building/warehouse that is considered an eyesore by many residents. It has an estimated value of $1.7 million and the residents want the Council to assist them in the purchase so it can be converted to a community hall.

Not so easy, said Council member Bostic. This is an issue beyond the County. The County is not in a position to shell out some $1.7 million to purchase property for one community group. It has a wider responsibility and it cannot make such an outlay. Second, it cannot go about condemning buildings such as this to be able to hand over to a community group. So although he would like to help, his wider responsibilities to the County and his desire to stay with the law precluded him from helping.

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