Wednesday, May 22, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Backroom shenanigans

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One of the most interesting aspects of the commissioners’ retreat this week was the brazen effort by county officials – primarily through the county manager (Heidi York) and the county attorney (Rik Stevens) – to lecture the commissioners about the “proper” way for them to be making inquiries.

Under the structure of most local governments, the elected body has direct supervision and authority (and the ability to hire and fire) only a few public employees.

In most towns and cities, those are the town or city manager, the town or city attorney, and, sometimes, the town or city clerk.

At the county government level, county commissioners have direct hiring, firing, and supervisory responsibility over the county manager, the county attorney, the county clerk, and a fourth position, the county’s tax administrator.

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Other than those four, commissioners are not supposed to be attempting to contact, control, persuade, or seek information from “regular” county employees.

Everything is supposed to be funneled through one of those four – most likely, the county manager.

But apparently, some (possibly all) have been exceeding their statutory authority.

In fact, based on the attempt at a diplomatically-worded harangue toward the commissioners, it is apparently an extensive problem.

Of course, the county’s hierarchy waited until there was no video coverage of the day-long retreat to bring up this potentially embarrassing subject.

But, quite frankly, the warnings from the county manager and county attorney summarized quite well what we have feared in recent months: there’s an awful lot of backroom and back channel shenanigans going on in between the semi-monthly commissioner meetings.

It needs to stop – not just because the bureaucrats (the official ones or their underlings) don’t like it – but also because it sounds like a pretty significant series of violations of the Open Meetings Law.

Public policy is supposed to be discussed, deliberated, and voted on at a public meeting, not in little one-on-one backroom meetings or conversations.

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