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COLUMN: Wannabes making hay at incumbent's expense

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Judge-executive hopefuls need more than catchy phrases to fix county's problems

By Ben Carlson

People in communities founded in the agrarian ethos such as ours certainly understand the old adage that calls on them to “make hay when the sun shines.”

Even city folks here know that means hay should be baled and stored when dry, less the farmer risk rotting his haul or setting his hay loft ablaze via spontaneous combustion.

In other words, don’t bale wet hay.

That adage is not lost on politicians, national or otherwise.

Those who pay too much attention will recall the glee of some in the Obama administration over the terrible economy when he took office. They said that a major crisis was a major opportunity, and quickly forged ahead with policies and plans that would never be acceptable to the masses under normal conditions. The economy was their sunshine, and they wasted no time fueling their tractors.

Well, the sun is shining for politicians these days in Anderson County in the form of lousy employment, shrinking revenue and a festering mistrust of how the county’s budget is being handled.

At least two of the candidates hint or directly imply that the incumbent judge is playing tricks with the budget by “moving” money around or not showing the fiscal court where that money actually is.

Rather than being proactive and working to reveal what they imply is the incumbent’s financial chicanery, they have circled his office with hay balers and are loading another spool of twine as you read.

We say proactive because if they cared to fix the problem rather than exacerbate it, they would pull the baler into the barn for a while and attend a budget committee meeting.

One was held last Friday when one candidate was on vacation but in town and the other likely not laying asphalt in the cold.

Each have made hay in the form of headlines with their claims, but had they attended last Friday’s meeting, they’d have more on which to base their claims that bawdy quotes and innuendo.

During that meeting we heard the incumbent and one of his committee members discuss the park and recreation budget along with dog control and solid waste.

And guess what? While most of the discussion would have made a hibernating bear yawn, other portions were particularly revealing.

Take for instance, the electric bill at solid waste. Last year it was about $200, total, and about $100 has been spent through the first half of this year. Yet the current budget is set at $1,200.

Hmm.

Or, consider this. In the parks and recreation budget, only $6,000 of the allotted $25,000 has been spent for umpire salaries, although several sports seasons have concluded since the budget went into effect last summer.

The incumbent said that softball season was yet to be played, prompting committee member Magistrate David Ruggles to point out that only $14,000 was spent in the previous year’s budget.

“We ought to be able to save $10,000 right there,” Ruggles said.

The incumbent, though, said he wanted to discuss it with the park’s recreation director, and from there it was dropped.

Hmm, again.

Want another? Also in the parks and rec budget, the committee decided to let $10,000 linger in a line item again this year, just on the chance the county gets a grant and it can use that money to match it.

Hmm, once more.

Are any of these examples “throw the bum out” worthy? No, because as the incumbent pointed out time and again these are preliminary numbers that are more likely to change than remain the same.

But for those looking to bale some hay at his expense, these examples are certainly more revealing than anything we’ve heard to date from our sefl-proclaimed budgetary saviors.

And until they want to get down and dirty with the numbers and provide some additional examples of the incumbent’s monetary magic tricks, they should stick to finding good locations for yard signs and coming up with catchy election slogans and websites.

The rest of us have serious business to conduct, or hay to bale, if you will.

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.