The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
County Council June 6
Still no closure on Outside Agencies
Oversight role of TAB endorsedWarwick Jones
The issue of contributions to Outside Agencies refuses to die. The Finance Committee at its meeting last Thursday agreed to defer the allocations to Outside Agencies until policy was better defined within the next few months. Last night, Council's vote was equally split as to accepting the Finance Committee's recommendation. Consequently, the recommendation to defer was not adopted. Council will meet again on Thursday to take up the issue once more. The only agreement that presently exists is that $312,000 will be distributed to Outside Agencies in fiscal 2007.
Apply new policy for fiscal 2008, not 2007
The debate on Outside Agencies was opened by Council member Pryor. Distributions have been made by Council for a number of years, he said. As in previous years, the agencies made their submissions and most appeared before Council to press their cause. Now Council was saying "we don't trust you, come back and do it all over again". Councilmember Pryor expressed disappointment and felt that there was a strong obligation to move immediately to allocate for fiscal 2007. He was not opposed to Council better defining policy in relation to distribution but this new policy should be for fiscal 2008 and beyond.
Councilmember Darby strongly supported Councilmember Pryor. He noted that applicants had fulfilled the requirements of the County to provide a budget, a mission statement, and the purpose to which the funds would be applied. They had done what Council had requested, and Council should not prevaricate.
Council was not breaking its word
The need to defer allocations until the policy was better defined was supported by Council members Bostic, Condon, Fava and Mc Keown. Council member Scott was absent last night and in the past had expressed views common with this group. Council member Bostic at an earlier meeting was the first to suggest that a better policy should be defined. He also expressed an opinion that because of a very tight budget, funding for outside agencies should be skipped in fiscal 2007. Council may have been well-intentioned, but have we really seriously defined policy? He took issue with suggestions that Council was "breaking its word". No commitment had been made to any of the Outside Agencies. Council member Mc Keown also asked that policy in relation to Accommodation tax funding also be defined.
Councilmember Condon also at a previous meeting, had suggested that allocations be confined to nonprofits that fell under the IRS classification 501 3c and also semi government organizations. Councilmember Inabinett asked why not included 501 4 non profits. Because they include lobbyists, he was told.
The number of organizations that were applying for funding was growing, Councilman Fava noted. Many serve the same purpose. In the interests of better use of funds, he thought partnerships between some of the applicants should be encouraged.
Puzzlement over previous policy
Council member Inabinett expressed puzzlement about the previous policy of Council. Where was it written? If no criteria, who made the decisions, he asked? Isn't there something wrong in changing horses in mid course? Are we going to make a greater mess, he asked? We did not fully understand much of the discussion that ensued but we have attempted a summary as follows. There was no written policy on Outside Distributions. The applicants had to complete a "request sheet', and this was perused/vetted by staff. The actions of Council were legal, according to legal counsel, but the County's legal staff played no role in vetting the applications. The discussion left this writer with the impression that Staff vetted the applications but did not scrutinize the detail. And without a firmly defined policy, perhaps broad vetting is all Staff could do.
Request for funding for drug reform group withdrawn
Councilman Darby also notified Council that he was withdrawing his request for funding in fiscal 2007 for a drug reform group. He had not changed his mind on drug reform but was mindful of the criticism of Council that the proposed allocation had generated. He wanted to remove this impediment from Council deliberations. He noted that the $500 contribution in fiscal 2006 took a year to make the pages of The Post and Courier (P&C). The question was implied as to why did it take the P&C so long to report it? Councilmember Pryor also asked the same question and provided the answer is well. It was an attempt to embarrass the Council and the Council member.
Nothing confidential about Outside Agency allocations
We note that there was nothing confidential about the distribution to Outside Agencies last year. The allocations were made public in discussions at a meeting of Council about 12 months ago. A reporter from the P&C normally attends Council meetings and it is reasonable to expect that if the P&C wanted to criticize, it would have done so then. It is also reasonable to assume that publishing very recently was only an attempt to embarrass Council. It was part of the newspaper's campaign to have a Chairman elected by citizens, and strangely considering that "single district" voting was ordered by the Courts, to reintroduce "at large" voting. Presently, the Chairman is elected by Council members for a 12 month term.
TAB and GAB lauded
Largely in the concluding remarks, Council members spoke favorably of the efforts of the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) and the Greenbelt Advisory Board. The Comprehensive Plans of both Boards have been adopted by Council. An ordinance to allow a referendum to issue $300 million of bonds for transportation and greenbelts passed its first hearing last night. The issue of these bonds will complement the bond issue approved in the 2004 referendum, but like the bonds in the 2004 referendum, interest and amortization be funded from sales tax proceeds.
Council is not ignoring TAB
Chairman Stavrinakis last night took the opportunity to deny the allegation that Council was ignoring the recommendations of the TAB. The criticism leveled at it by the P&C was unfair. The situation in relation to road funding was complex, and some decisions made by Council were taken out of context, he said. He did not think that Council will disregard the actions of the TAB. His view was supported by the unanimous approval of an amendment to wording in the proposed bond referendum. Councilmember Condon suggested that the specific roads mentioned in the referendum for financing be removed and that staff and the consultant review the roads for funding in the light of the criteria defined by the TAB. The TAB should then be asked to review the roads recommended.
But application of TAB-defined criteria may be difficult
We applaud the action of Council. We, and others, have always held the view that the TAB and GAB had an oversight role. Actions of Council occasionally in the past suggested that not all Council members shared this view about oversight. Last night's vote was clearly an endorsement. And although we had a smile of satisfaction at the amendment, there was also a smile of amusement. The TAB spent a lot of time defining policy and criteria for assessing road projects. On completion it asked the consultant to apply the criteria to the projects in the Comprehensive Transportation Plan and to rank them. This it did, but there was considerable disagreement amongst TAB members about the scoring and ranking. It subsequently abandoned the attempt but made a recommendation that Staff devise a system using TAB criteria. If Staff has difficultly, it will get satisfaction from knowing that so did the TAB. As the consultant said at the time, the application of the criteria was difficult and very subjective.