At Tuesday night's Board of Commissioners meeting, three members of the board voted to put in place a partial spending freeze and a hiring freeze.
Certainly in the current economic climate such action by local governments isn't unexpected, but we have to wonder at the motivation behind last week's vote.
Our concern isn't that the cost-saving measures may not be warranted, but rather that commissioners voted to take action without having done the research essential to make sure their actions made sense.
We find it curious that over the objections of the county's award-winning Finance Department, Commissioners Tim Fleming, Earnest Simmons and J.C. Henderson saw fit to override a request for more time to research the proposed freezes.
The partial spending freeze in place now will be ineffective because it excludes the lion's share of county expenditures by not including legal services, public safety, constitutional officers, etc. It is an artifice - the semblance of financial prudence without any meat behind it. It also gives the impression that certain county departments are being "punished" while others are not.
We wonder why these three commissioners saw fit to pass a spending freeze ahead of a planned work session on the matter. We wonder why some departments were automatically excluded from the freeze and others included. If the county's financial circumstances are truly that dire, then no department deserves a pass.
We also find it curious that they chose to have the vote on Tuesday night, the same night of the Chamber of Commerce's Annual Meeting when a number of residents who traditionally attend the board meeting were not in attendance, as well as members of the local media. Could it be that they felt they had something to hide?
A joint-work session with all board members, constitutional officers (sheriff, probate judge, clerk of courts, tax commissioner, etc.) and department heads is in order to properly address the county's estimated $3.5 million budget shortfall. We urge the board to move on this and, if necessary, put in place much more effective and balanced cost-saving measures.
It is no secret that certain members of the board have hopes to advance to higher political offices. The rush to pass poorly conceived spending cuts without deliberate research and proper consideration reeks of strategic politicking rather than good governance.
In the end, we see this action by these three aligned commissioners as nothing but political posturing and power mongering. In these times of economic hardship, wouldn't it be better to work together as a unified board to solve our budgetary challenges rather than needlessly trying to further personal political aspirations? Elected officials need to remember that the fine citizens of Newton County voted you into office to do what is the best interest of community, not for the purpose of furthering political ambitions.