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The Tentacle


June 29, 2010

Watch Carefully and Learn

Farrell Keough

 We are coming to the 11th hour for people to register and run for office in this year’s elections. Once everyone’s name is out there, the smears and rumors will start. All it takes is an innuendo that so-and-so was involved in this-or-that to make the public question their integrity or standing in the community.

 

It can be as simple as someone having a friendship with a developer; or someone else is known to hang out with people who are active in a group that are known troublemakers. Some of these smear tactics will happen early on, while others will take time to be released. It is the blood sport of politics.

 

It is ugly, but it works!

 

At this point there are some things we do know and they are not based upon innuendo or smear campaigns. For instance, we do know the Frederick County Board of Education recently ‘found’ millions of dollars that was previously unaccounted.

 

Given that the school board has a budget of half a billion dollars, a few million may seem to them to be small potatoes; remember, one billion is equivalent to 1,000 million. But, this is not their money, it is our money! This money was not ‘found,’ it was well known that it existed.

 

Now the difficult part comes: how to use that money. On the one hand, the school board will state that their employees paid into a program that ended up being over-budgeted and those employees should get that money back. On the other hand, some will argue this is part of the employees benefit package and that money should be used to pay down the huge shortfall in other areas of the benefits package. Namely, the health insurance coverage included in the retirement plan – generally referred to as OPEB.

 

But there is a bigger story to this ‘found’ money. Very often the board of education over budgets projects. Some of that is due to unforeseen expenses, but this is such a common practice, one has to wonder if this has simply become the norm with this group. And, when these programs come in under budget, the money is often transferred to other projects – not returned to the county or the taxpayers.

 

It is these kinds of practices that must be questioned!

 

Virtually no one has a handle on the entire budget of the school board and one has to wonder if that is by design. Staff has become very well versed in shifting and covering these monies – monies which account for more than half of our entire county budget!

 

Another area of decision when considering candidates running for office is how they will work, not only for us, but among the other elected officials throughout the county. Much ado has been made of how our Board of County Commissioners has interacted with various municipalities and citizens whose property they have affected.

 

My friend and fellow www.theTentacle.com writer, Rocky Mackintosh, has written extensively on the topic both here and on his blog. Mr. Mackintosh has a history of improving process, structure, and functionality in large organizations such as Frederick Memorial Hospital. While he and I will argue, at times, on the implementation, I have come to respect his insights.

 

But, it is still the people who matter when we choose someone to represent our interests and work together, rather than against various other entities and citizens. Keep this in mind when you decide who you want to support.

 

Finally, there is a little known or spoken to aspect about our elected officials. Once they get into office, they are dependent upon the existing staff. The staff has been there and running things behind the scenes through many different elected officials. The staff has its own perspectives and ideologies. The staff is very necessary and helpful to these elected officials as they can teach them the history and the current direction that the previous board was moving.

 

This is also a potential negative. If the public elected a group to go in a new direction, staff has the ability to influence our elected officials to back off from pursuing this new direction. We need candidates who are willing to take the time to learn from staff, but are also willing to stand firm and push back if the staff only present one perspective.

 

This is more important than many people realize. Staff retention is often high, especially when compared to how often new elected officials turn over. That means that staff will often have their own perspectives that may not reflect that of the citizenry. Elected officials need to be cognizant of this paradigm and spend the time and energy to promote their own goals.

 

So, during this season of political shenanigans, keep in mind that much of what will be said and printed will not be the entire story. Focus on how you see the candidates handle what will be the day-to-day decisions and interactions. The big issues will be presented, and they are very important; but don’t forget the little things as that is how a person will present themselves once in office.

 

fkeough@hotmail.com



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