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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com
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As I See It

Washington Co. commissioners have failed to deliver on top promises

May 29th, 2012 9:31 am by Robert Houk

All the promises Washington County commissioners made while running for office in 2010 seem like a distant memory now. For the most part, commissioners have failed miserably to deliver on any of them.
What happened to their pledges to reduce the size of county government? Just the opposite has occurred. Commissioners have voted to create a number of new positions in the last two years, including that of a full-time county attorney (with several staffers) and a county building inspector.
When they weren’t voting to create new county jobs, commissioners were hiking the pay for positions already in existence. Commissioners had no problems giving County Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford and one of his top deputies very generous pay increases at a time when most laboring in the private sector have had to go without.
At the same time, commissioners have flatly refused to even entertain the notion of reducing their own ranks. Redistricting has found them suffering from political amnesia when it comes to recalling promises to reduce the number of commissioners. Washington County has no need for 25 commissioners. Truth is, only half that number ever makes a meaningful contribution to county government anyway. The rest are there simply to collect a paycheck, or to enroll in the county’s health care plan.
That leads me to another broken promise. A number of candidates for the County Commission said they would end the practice of allowing commissioners to participate in the county’s health insurance coverage. Surprise, that hasn’t happened either.
As Press staff writer Gary B. Gray reported last week, commissioners get paid a monthly salary of $375 for their public service. That represents an annual cost of $112,500 to county taxpayers. Taxpayers also pay another $140,000 or so to subsidize the insurance costs of commissioners who participate in the county’s health insurance plan.
Some of you might think I’m being too hard on county commissioners. Perhaps I am, but I had such high hopes for this bunch. They promised to be different.
Frankly, I’m disappointed to see how many of them have settled comfortably into a good-old-boy style of politics that dominated Jonesborough several decades ago.
Watching some of the rookies join with a few of the veterans to wheel and deal is like going back in time to the days when the County Commission was split by city/county divisions, personal grudges and petty politics.
I recall those days quite well. I also remember a time when commissioners agreed to pay themselves a hefty salary based on the number of committee meetings they attended. As a result, some commissioners were taking home nearly $900 a month.
I also know of a time when members of the county’s Highway Committee climbed into a van, drove once around the courthouse and called it a meeting.
County commissioners haven’t returned to those days. Not yet, at least. But they do have two more years until re-election. There’s still plenty of time for mischief.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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