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Accountability, transparency and leadership
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Newton County officials, do you remember the citizens’ outrage at a raise in taxes due to an increase in the county’s budget?

Have you seen the reports of shootings and burglaries in Newton County lately, and wondered if we can ever hire more deputies?

Do you know the main branch of our library system will most likely be closed for a second straight week due to a broken HVAC unit that was first reported as being needed to be replaced in 2013?

Ok. Why then, when the county manager — who is still earning full-time pay to run the county, like our Chairman, after an organizational chart could not be agreed on — reported a unbudgeted expense excess of nearly $50,0000, did he get publicly lambasted?

During Tuesday’s BOC meeting Owens was giving a report stating that the expenses for the convenience center have gone over budget roughly $50,000 for two straight years. In response, J.C. Henderson questioned Owens, including asking him how long he was going to be the county manager for. After Henderson called Junior Hilliard up to explain the expenses, Commissioner Lanier Sims left the dais.

For a county in our position, every penny counts.

If there was $50,000 extra budgeted to the Sheriff’s office that might mean one more deputy. If there was $50,000 extra budged toward the library, it could have covered a repair to the HVAC unit. If there was $50,000 extra budgeted toward any number of projects, Newton County could be that much better of a place to live.

Those are areas of desperate need for our county, not items that would simply tidy things up a little.

However, that money was not budgeted. The reason is simple. We don’t have it.

So why then did Commissioner J.C. Henderson pursue Owens’ report of the finances of Junior Hilliard’s 11 convenience centers in an accusatory measure? Why did he dismiss the roughly $50,000, for two straight years, as a “house cleaning” measure. Clearly that amount of money is not just a house cleaning for a county that desperately needs more money.

Commissioner Henderson scolded Owens about reporting excess spending and asked the him when he expected his time as County Manager to come to an end.

That is deplorable behavior.

There should be no disagreements about people being accountable with tax payers’ money. And if there was a disagreement, it should be conveyed respectfully. If there are questions to be asked, perhaps they should be directed toward Henderson, who has the responsibility as liaison for the convenience centers.

Owens, in our minds, is doing his job. He is bringing overspending to the board’s attention so that we do not run into budgeting problems for the next fiscal year.

Henderson said he wants to do his job by sticking with a motion approved in 2009 of being the liaison to the county’s convenience centers. He questioned why something that was approved wasn’t followed.

Well, Commissioner the budget for the convenience center, which clearly included the words “not to exceed” was passed — by you as well — but it was not followed.

We applaud Owens for his transparency.

Commissioner Henderson, your actions are not transparent. We feel that they are not accountable and that this is just one more case of an embarrassing situation in Newton County government.

Citizens are still stung over the fact that taxes increased again. Now, with 10 months to go before the next budget is looked at by the BOC, we have a sign that one commissioner is not concerned with being accountable with taxpayers’ money.

But the real question is, what happens now? Do the convenience centers continue to operate over budget without any concern by the commissioners. Is someone going to do something about it? Is there a leader in our midst who understands the role of representing the public?

Only time will tell, but based on what we’ve seen so far, we’re afraid we know the answers to those questions.