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Senate bill good start, but more is needed

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Also this week, a civics lesson and thoughts on Walter Patrick

By Ben Carlson

Column as I see ’em …
It’s good to see I’m not alone in yammering for taxing districts to be made more accountable.
The state senate agrees, at least when it comes to libraries.
During the recent session, the senate passed a bill that would give judge-executives and their fiscal courts the power to appoint those they consider best suited to serve as library trustees.
The current system is nothing short of a charade in which the library trustees “recommend” new appointees, which are then “voted” on by the fiscal court.
Trouble is, the so-called recommendations are actually mandates, and the vote of the fiscal court a sham that makes magistrates nothing more than shills of the system. Just a few months ago, the judge-executive wanted to reject a library appointee, only to be told that legally he couldn’t do so.
And if that weren’t bad enough, consider this. When the library or health board or fire district present their budgets for fiscal court “approval,” that vote is meaningless, too. Magistrates aren’t actually approving those budgets, simply voting to acknowledge having seen those budgets.
Why bother at all?
While I’m certainly happy to see the senate support this bill, it clearly doesn’t go far enough. The Senate (where oh where is the House on this?) needs to scrap the entire system related to taxing districts and start over by first giving final budget and tax rate approval powers to elected fiscal courts, along with appointment powers.
Then when a taxing district gets out of control (see the Anderson County Board of Health, circa 2008), voters will know exactly who to blame and kick them out of office.

Speaking of approval powers, it’s a shame when politicians elected to make decisions run for the tall grass by subcontracting their obligations in the name of a public referendum.
First a civics lesson. America was not founded as a democracy, despite what you may have learned (or were never taught at all) in school.
Instead, we live in a representative republic designed in a way that gives us the freedom to choose who we want to represent us in government, and them the freedom to make decisions on our behalf.
If we reject their decisions, our job is to vote them out of office and elect someone we think will do a better job.
Democracy in its purest form was rejected by our Founding Fathers if for no other reason than it allows for tyranny of the majority.
Think slavery would have ended had it been up for a public vote in the 1800s? Exactly.
The same holds true today, a good example being the governor’s failed attempt to have a public vote on gambling.
Such a vote would almost certainly have passed, but don’t think for a moment that the governor and those lobbying for a referendum didn’t have ulterior motives. Knowing full well the Evangelical repercussions, Beshear would have plenty of political cover when he signed gambling into law by saying he was acting only as a servant of the people.
Not exactly a get out of Hell free card from the Baptists, but certainly a measure of forgiveness that would not have been forthcoming had he and his gambling supporters done so without a public vote.
Besides, if it’s good practice to have public votes on difficult decisions, why not go whole hog and let us vote on what our property and payroll tax levels should be, along state, school, county, city, library, health and fire department budgets?
I’m guessing the governor and those running the other government bodies would be just a bit more gun shy about that.
Don’t you?

Speaking of forthcoming, that word very well describes the late Walter Patrick, a man I most certainly will miss.
I’d be lying if I said I knew Walter very well. Almost all of our interactions were on a professional level, the lion’s share being over the past couple of years as he tried to unite city and county government.
Walter approached me about that idea early on, and did his level best to ensure that the local newspaper editor had a good grasp on the issue.
Did he also want to ensure he had at least some editorial page support, too? Of course he did, and I credit him for understanding how important that support can be.
But unlike many who work that angle, Walter never once tried doing so under any pretense. He was direct about wanting my support and determined to make sure I knew enough about this issue to gain it.
There are a million things I’ll never know about Walter, but the one thing I do know is that he was always straightforward and honest with me each time we spoke.
That is one of the truest measures of a man in my book, and one that in all too many instances is sorely lacking today.