Letter to the Editor: A county commissioner’s concerns for local government

To the Editor:
Jul 17, 2014

Editor’s Note: Incumbent Clint Thomas is challenged by Sonja L. Robinson for the District 13 Wilson County commissioner’s seat in the Aug. 7 election. 

To the Editor:

Being a county commissioner is not about a part-time job. It is about public service, and it is not for everyone. I served our country because I chose to. I now serve on the county commission because I choose to. Those of us who made this choice do not do it for the money, the glory or the status. We do this because we want to improve the lives of our families, friends, and constituents. 

We all have full-time jobs and families to support, and after our long work days, we then attend to the needs of our constituents. Although we might only spend a few hours a week in council meetings, we are always on call when we are needed. We are the link between the citizen and local government, and are their most immediate connection to civic authority when they need someone to assist them.

I have served my county for more than a decade and have always worked for private enterprise. This has enabled me to make decisions in the county government without prejudice or favoritism. I am not accountable to special interest groups. I am accountable only to the needs of my constituents and those of my county. It is for that reason that I supported recent state legislation to disallow county employees from seeking positions on the county commission. Unfortunately that bill did not pass as intended, and the practice of filling seats on the commission with county employees will not change any time soon.

Many of our municipalities throughout the state do not allow city employees on their governing counsels, yet we still allow this to take place in our county’s government. This continual conflict of interest in governing is always a question and concern to the citizens that we find difficult to defend when questioned why we allow this practice to continue. 

Although I am confident that all of us who choose to serve have the best interests of our county and constituents at heart, there are always those who question our decisions when they are influenced by people who work for the county government in any capacity. This taints the image of the office and always leaves doubt in the mind of the public that raise increases, bonus programs, and budgetary allocations for pet projects are made in favor of those who get their check by county employment.

We pride ourselves at this level of government for being nonpartisan, yet we continue to demonstrate the nepotism of allowing the special interests of those who work for the county to partake in the decisions affecting their agencies. This has been brought to my attention by many of my constituents for a number of years. Every time I am asked to comment I have no equitable answers.

We have some very outstanding people who work for our county in all capacities. Our teachers, emergency service providers, sheriff departments, and public service workers do a stellar job at performing their difficult duties under the constraints of our current budgets. We admire them for their dedicated efforts to afford our citizens the ultimate degree of excellence in the services they provide in these trying economic times. We always must make sure that they have adequate funding to do their jobs properly and are rewarded for their efforts with comprehensive health care and pay packages.

But, since we are dealing with the funding and management of the entire county government, not just one agency or department, we must remain open, objective and honest in the allocation of funds and personnel to ensure that the needs of each department are satisfied. That is why it is my contention, along with and that of many of my fellow commission members, that we should not have county employees serving on the commission.

Although county employees who also serve on commissions are asked to recuse themselves from voting on issues that might be considered a conflict of interest, they can still make decisions that in advertently affect the department or agency they work for. They might not even be aware of this, but their motives will always be questioned by the public. To increase the credibility of our governments in the eyes of the public, all counties must adopt a plan to restrict county employees from running for the office of commissioner.

Since the county government is the training ground for many up and coming public servants to move on to the next level of service in our state legislatures, they should be trained properly in ethics, protocol and administration. Learning how to make decisions independently without duress of superiors breathing down their necks is necessary to development of good legislative management skills. This cannot be accomplished by trying to serve too many masters at one time.

In this day and age when citizens are becoming more involved in government, it is vital that we live up to the accountability expected from us. We should eliminate as many concerns as possible regarding our credibility and our ability to manage the taxpayers hard earned dollars without prejudice or nepotism. We should eliminate all questions of conflict of interest and regain the confidence in our ability to manage county government effectively and efficiently. We can take a large step forward in accomplishing this by taking county employees off of our commissions.

We must never lose sight of our mission. The county is your most important link to government. The county plays an important part in your lives, and provides basic needs for the delivery of services. It all starts here. A healthy, well-managed county government is the most essential component in maintaining the quality of life that our citizens expect and demand today. We are here to serve your needs not the needs and desires of special interest groups.

Clint Thomas

Wilson County commissioner

District 13


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