Our elected officials must retake control of Newton County’s affairs and finances and stop relying on appointed employees to make decisions and oversee their implementation.
Citizens spoke loudly and clearly at a meeting Thursday in favor of a form of government in which an elected representative oversees the county administration directly, and County Attorney Tommy Craig’s out-of-control $1.1 million budget is the perfect example why. Our reporting shows Craig was paid over $55,000 for one month of work on the Bear Creek Reservoir project, and that his invoices were approved by the county manager with no oversight from the chairman. Moreover, the board only recently resumed regular review and approval of the check registry after a nearly two year lapse when there appears to have been little or no oversight.
It is no wonder Craig’s costs ballooned as they did.
Since his appointment in September, our current county manager, Tom Garrett, has worked diligently toward greater financial transparency. It was Garrett who made sure we recieved the invoices documenting Craig’s $55,000 payout on time, and answered our follow-up questions honestly and in a timely manner. This is more than can be said of some of our elected officials or Craig, who has not commented for some time now.
The system, however, is broken, and must be fixed. On Thursday, we heard from a county employee and a mayor who both said that the county must commit to a clear chain of command with a single leader—which, according to the county charter, is the elected chair.
Giving county manager sole responsibility for reviewing and approving invoices without a clear budget policy for, say, legal costs, is a recipe for disaster, and he or she will be caught holding the bag when it should be our elected officials. This mess started with the questionable decision to strip the chair of its powers and give them to an appointed employee in the form of a county manager. Let us restore the old order, and accountability with it.