Monday, February 26, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Commissioners’ daylong retreat largely a waste of time

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Monday’s so-called commissioners’ retreat was, as best we can assess, a colossal waste of time for the four (of five) county commissioners who attended. The chairman, who was absent due to illness, may eventually be thankful for whatever waylaid him, sparing him from wasting a day on the exercise.

Much of the commissioners’ time was frittered away giving “input” to the county’s bureaucrats on “updating” a periodic “strategic plan,” by whatever name they give it, that is rehashed about every five years.

Our consistent observation on such exercises over the years is that they squander the commissioners’ and bureaucrats’ time, and taxpayers’ dollars.

Such “long-range plans” are, in reality, little more than a favorite recent governmental fad, often recommended by local government consultants, who are always eager to help divert elected officials from specific policies and issues in favor of vague, largely meaningless, goals and objectives.

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The whole exercise is largely pointless, but it succeeded in tying up the commissioners so that they couldn’t make much progress in addressing any substantive changes in county spending or other priorities.

Judging from the staff’s recommended objectives, the only thing missing from the five-year initiative is the goal of attaining “world peace.” Might as well stick it in as just as realistic and achievable as the other nebulous items on the county’s list.

The last list included support for “smart growth and development,” and having a “world-class education system,” and other, similarly amorphous, generalized concepts which have proven as vapid after five years as they were when proposed and adopted originally.

Meanwhile, another unnecessary idea, but one which is quite popular among bureaucrats and their consultants everywhere, is having a government “public information officer.”

“There is so much good that nobody knows about,” fawned commissioner Craig Turner, who usually has a more realistic view of government excesses.

“And we do not do a good job telling our story about what happens in county government,” whined county manager Heidi York. By which what she’s really claiming is that county bureaucrats just need to get the word out that all the taxes – and tax increases – that the county’s taxpayers are asked to pay are going for all sorts of good, worthy, even glorious programs (and badly-needed bureaucrats), and for which those taxpayers should be eternally grateful.

Oh, these governmental propagandists have become quite popular as cities and counties attempt to “control the narrative” – Mebane’s bureaucrats even admitted as much in their written recommendation for such a position two years ago. (It was funded in their 2022 budget.)

Of course, the question we always raise is, what, exactly, is being “controlled”?

The press?

The public?

Neither is a good answer.

Usually, these fluffy public relations positions under whatever name they’re established – public information officers, community engagement directors, etc. – become the exact opposite of their title, instead, serving to prevent the release of “unfavorable” information or anything that would make the government or its bureaucrats look bad.

They don’t exist to “provide” information; rather, they exist to control it, often to restrict that which is not supportive of the government.

For a particularly prominent example, please refer to the current White House “press secretary,” Karine Jean-Pierre, who provides about as little information as possible.

Commissioners, meanwhile, are currently eager to divert all of the hostile public reaction away from themselves as residents recoil from the tax valuations they received during the past week.

Commissioners are in an interim period between taxpayers’ receipt of those new valuation notices and the adoption of a budget, which is typically several months off.

For another potential topic for a county “spin doctor,” see the ongoing obsession of county commissioner Steve Carter, who just doesn’t think the people of Alamance County understand the situation when they repeatedly have killed one of Carter’s favorite ideas, that of raising the local option sales tax by a quarter of 1 percent.

Voters have voted down such increases four times, but Carter raised the topic again this week.

“If it’s a good idea, we need to market it better,” he said. (“Market it better,” there’s the rhetoric for a propagandist.) “If it’s not a good idea, we need to drop it and leave it alone.”

May we suggest that the voters of this county have passed judgment on it being a bad idea by defeating the idea four times already.

What Carter doesn’t seem to understand is that the voters, when given a choice, will naturally vote down additional sales taxes on themselves. (They’d probably vote down other spending and taxing issues on which they’re not given a voice, if they could.)

Carter’s suggestion that some significant portion of additional sales taxes will be paid by out-of-county shoppers misses the point that at least as significant an amount will be paid by county residents who buy anything.

Voters instinctively know: their overall tax bill will not go down (in the long term), as officials often imply when pushing a sales tax referendum.

Oh, and just by the way, how appropriate to raise the subject, ostensibly, of a caring about getting public information out broadly at a meeting that was not broadcast, unlike most other of the commissioners’ semi-monthly meetings – so the public at large cannot hear, or evaluate, seven hours’ worth of discussion.

At any rate, we regret that the county commissioners allowed themselves to be put through such an unnecessary and lengthy exercise.

Of course, they were willing participants on a few other issues. In trying to figure out how to expand county government offices and the court system, they were all ears on a consultant’s furtive methods for funding tens of millions of dollars in new construction spending.

But the points we heard, even if they didn’t pay much attention, is that several of the options still involve significant property tax increases for Alamance County residents – ranging from 1.4 cents (if enacted now) to 3.14 cents (if postponed until later) per $100 value.

Let’s let the taxpayers vote on that – without a county-funded propaganda campaign financed by the taxpayers against themselves.

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