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I probably lost a layer or two of enamel while gritting my teeth during last Tuesday’s meeting of the Anderson County Fiscal Court.
Out of the blue, Judge-Executive Steve Cornish began discussing a recent budget committee meeting — a meeting about which the public should have been notified and one that I would have certainly attended.
I’ve asked repeatedly during the past year to be told about these meetings, and not being told made my blood boil. Since then, I’ve asked questions about committee meetings I should have asked months if not years ago, and I’m no happier about the situation than any of you should be.
Here’s the problem: According to state law, the fiscal court and other public bodies are supposed to put together a schedule of meetings, including time, date and location. The fiscal court has no such schedule, nor does it apparently have any firm measure by which the public gets notified of committee or special-called meetings.
Instead, the fiscal court appears to have committee meetings whenever the mood strikes, and those on the receiving end of what is discussed — that would be all of you — have no way of knowing what is said or done.
Had Magistrate Forrest Dale Stevens not instigated a debate about the county paying debt on the park (it voted to do so last year but isn’t) I would not have known about that meeting nor the following gems that came out of it:
1) The fiscal court, according to what the judge-executive said are “very preliminary” numbers, is staring down the barrel of a nearly $400,000 budget deficit next year.
2) The ambulance service needs one if not two new ambulances.
When I spoke Monday afternoon with Cornish, he said that nothing big came from the meeting and no one was trying to do anything behind closed doors.
Really? Both items are clearly issues that the people paying for them — again, that would be all of you — should certainly know about and I’m guessing probably care about.
I’ll take the judge-executive at his word that not alerting the public to the meeting was nothing more than an oversight.
But the cynic in me can’t help but think that he wanted me there taking notes and jotting down quotes about as badly as Big Blue fans want the NCAA compliance committee sniffing around Rupp Arena.
They know that could spell trouble, and when he’s talking about huge budget deficits and needing hundreds of thousands of dollars for ambulances, the judge-executive knows it, too.
Speaking of trouble, one can’t help but wonder if that’s just what highway foreman Chip Chambers bought when he signed up to run for judge-executive.
Already the fiscal court is replete with intrigue, considering that Magistrate John Wayne Conway is running against Cornish in May’s Democratic primary, and that Cornish’s country treasurer, Dudley Shyrock, is also treasurer for Conway’s campaign.
Along comes Chambers, a Republican, who filed Tuesday afternoon and will challenge the winner in November’s general election.
In the meantime, Chambers will answer to and work for Cornish and Conway during the day, and campaign against them at night.
Adding to the intrigue is that Cornish didn’t want Chambers as his highway foreman when he took office three years ago, and only gave him a two-year appointment to appease magistrates on the fiscal court who did. When those two years were nearly finished, Conway and other magistrates demanded and Cornish finally relented by appointing Chambers for two more years.
It’s a good bet should Cornish keep his job that Chambers would be on the streets in short order after the election.
If Conway, who along with other magistrates has publicly called Chambers the “state’s best highway foreman” wins, he’ll have more than a little explaining to do if he doesn’t keep him in that position.
Could Chambers be fired for challenging a seated judge-executive and magistrate for office? Apparently yes, but only if such a motion is made and approved by the majority of the fiscal court.
I don’t see that motion or subsequent vote happening, though, because politics alone isn’t reason enough to fire someone.
That’s a technicality, though. What isn’t is the amount of fear voters would smell on whomever made that motion or voted for it, and it’s a good bet those who did would soon join Chambers in the political unemployment line.
E-mail Ben Carlson at email@example.com.