The county is currently 5 months behind schedule for budgeting meetings.....per the directive of the insurance consortium that Elbert County participates in. In my previous article about budgeting meetings, I stated that County Manager Ed Ehmann (who also holds the title "Budget Officer") had scheduled and then cancelled a meeting on 8/17/16 that was to have addressed the sheriff's and IT's 2017 budgets.
So then another posting goes up about a departmental budget meeting scheduled for 8/31/16 @11AM that was to deal with the CDS (building department's) budget. A group of interested citizens shows up to observe the meeting.....and I know this will surprise you.....but it was CANCELLED.....again! Even though there was a quorum of county commissioners present, the excuse this time was that newly appointed Commissioner Willcox was absent.
Interestingly, Commissioner Ross did listen to comments about the budget and actually interacted with the public for a few minutes. When asked if there had been any other budget meetings held up to this time, Mr. Ross replied in the affirmative, stating that they were only "very preliminary" budget meetings. When pressed further about why the public HAD NOT been informed of these meetings, the reply was that "there wasn't a quorum of commissioners present, so we didn't have to notify the public"....and that the public wouldn't understand the difference between a "preliminary" budget and a "final" budget; therefore, inaccurate "rumors" would be spread about budgetary numbers. So one can assume that the commissioners and Mr. Ehmann would rather the budget be formulated and cloaked in secrecy than trust that the citizens would understand the difference between "preliminary" and "final."
It was also pointed out to the commissioners that with other entities within the county (municipalities, school boards, etc.), budgets are driven by goals created from the top down.....then staff formulates budget proposals based on the goals. Just the opposite happens in Elbert County - staff tells the commissioners how to spend our funds.
During this entire exchange with Commissioner Ross, "Budget Officer" Ed Ehmann sat silently with his back to the audience. He was clearly agitated with the citizens and abruptly stood up, along with two of his employees, and said, "We have work to do,".....and all three of them exited the room. These same employees sit through endless hours of county commissioner meetings, with no apparent purpose as they make no contributions and do not participate in the commissioners' meetings.....yet they have "work to do" when it comes to actually listening to and interacting with citizens' comments about the budget.
Until and unless the county commissioners understand that they control the purse strings in this county, that the budget should be driven by the goals that THEY (the county commissioners) establish (with citizen input), that the Budget Officer serves at their pleasure, and that the citizens really do comprehend the definitions of the words "draft" or "preliminary," the budget of Elbert County will continue to be a source of conflict.-Jill Duvall