Courtland man says supervisors’ action smells bad to him

Published 2:49 pm Wednesday, July 24, 2013

To the Editor:

I don’t remember many lines from my studies of Shakespeare both in high school and college, but several stand out. “Romeo, oh Romeo; wherefore art thou Romeo?” “Out, out damned spot!” Another of the more memorable ones is: “Something is rotten in Denmark.” Perhaps you ask, “What does ‘Something is rotten in Denmark’ mean?” Answer: Originally it’s the ominous start from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.” It referred to the foul play involved in the plot – foul play in the form of corruption and deception at the highest levels of the kingdom. We have seen and heard a lot about such things at the federal level lately (IRS, NSA, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, etc.) but, except for Chicago, there are not many times when I associate such deception at the local level. Until Monday night, that is.

During the early part of the public session of the Board of Supervisors meeting, the citizens present were informed that during the preceding closed session the supervisors had reclassified some employee positions (among other actions). No explanation of exactly what “reclassified” means was offered. Later, during the citizen comment period, citizen [John] Burchett politely asked someone to explain to the audience exactly what is meant by reclassification, and does it involve pay increases? There was a pause as each supervisor silently gazed at the other supervisors, with a look on all their faces as if to say, “Is this guy really asking this question?” Finally the county administrator spoke into his microphone, “Yes, it does involve pay raises for some employees, specifically in the sheriff’s department.” For a brief moment you could have heard a pin drop. Then Mr. Burchett got to the point of his query, which is, such pay raises are budget items and they should be made public in advance, with citizen input available. Before he inquired, no one up front (supervisors and staff) had mentioned the pay raises, and their effect on the newly adopted budget. It appeared to almost every citizen in attendance that an attempt was made to shield these pay raises from public scrutiny and refer to them simply as “reclassifications.” Is something rotten in Courtland?

How long since the budget was adopted? Two months, three? And with a county debt already near $70 million, our leaders are acting just like the former Board, and continuing to spend money we do not have. Earlier in the meeting they had already agreed to borrow $400,000 to buy school buses and to get us through the next few months, and to borrow another $44,000 just to pay the consultant who helped us get the loan. If we are paying consultants for any financial assistance it should be for helping us avoid borrowing more money, not how to borrow it. We are borrowing money to buy school buses, and we are borrowing money to cover our debts, and we are borrowing money to “reclassify” some employees while unpaid county taxes (real and personal property combined) are $1.2 million. If all the citizens would pay their taxes in a timely manner, we would not have to borrow such vast sums and pay consultants to help us do it. Some supervisors have agreed to refund their $5,500 pay back to the county and serve for free. I can understand how at least one supervisor, Mr. [Glenn] Updike, thinks it is a travesty and an insult to spend his generous contribution on pay raises for some county employees, when a large segment of the citizens are not even paying their taxes. With unpaid taxes at $1.2 million, and the budget already approved, the supervisors should be ashamed of themselves for their actions. Something is rotten, indeed, and I can smell it in the air. I will let my supervisor know my opinion. You should do the same.

On the news this week we learned that the city of Detroit has filed for bankruptcy with a combined debt of $18 billion. City leaders spent those funds during the past few years, despite repeated warnings that their city was collapsing around them. About 50 percent of that debt, or $9 billion, is pension liabilities for city workers. I occasionally ask the supervisors, “Is Southampton County headed in the same direction?” They just sit up front and smile at me and say, ”Thank you for sharing your opinion.”


Ash Cutchin