Elected officials decline invitation to round table
By JUSTIN BURNETT
South Whidbey Record Island County
August 24, 2012 · Updated 3:34 PM
The Island County Commissioners’ hopes for a recorded round table budget discussion with all department heads was derailed last week when a host of elected officials refused to attend.
The group notified the board by letter this past Friday that they would not be coming to the meeting largely because they believed it was a waste of time as the proposed format allowed each person just five minutes to speak.
“We understand the board’s desire to produce a two-and-one-half hour comprehensive video presentation summarizing the work of 18 different offices,” the letter said. “However, we are convinced that a five-minute presentation during a two-and-one-half hour meeting is not an effective or efficient way to communicate our budgets to citizens or to the board.”
The letter was signed by Assessor Mary Engle, Auditor Sheilah Crider, Clerk Debra Van Pelt, Coroner Robert Bishop, Prosecutor Greg Banks, Sheriff Mark Brown and Treasurer Ana Maria Nuñez.
Superior Court Judges Alan Hancock and Vickie Churchill sent their own letter informing the board they would not be attending.
In an Aug. 6 email to all department heads, most of whom are not elected officials, the board said it wanted this year’s budget process to be “open and comprehensive” so that both the public and staff would know how each department was faring.
Each was asked to prepare a five-minute brief that described how their departments had been affected in the past four recessionary years, what efficiencies they had undertaken, what their priorities and goals are and how they would manage their budgets next year should they not get an increase.
Brown, who isn’t shy about advocating the fiscal needs of his Sheriff’s Department, said in a later interview that his reasons for not attending were simply that he believed it was a poor use of his time.
“It’s by no means meant to be disruptive,” Brown said. “It’s meant to be practical.”
Aside from a round table meeting, each department head is being given 15 to 30 minutes to make individual presentations to the board about their budgets. Brown said trying to repeat that but in a fraction of the time just didn’t make sense.
“I don’t think I could do it justice,” Brown said.
The letter from the elected officials made it clear they all felt the same way. It said each was content to rely on the already scheduled budget workshops to present their individual proposals.
Although it’s unclear whether non-elected department heads have the same qualms — they don’t have the luxury of refusing the board’s request — the round table meeting will still move forward but has been shortened to 90 minutes.
While discussing the scheduling during Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Angie Homola said she was “discouraged” by the elected officials’ decline, saying it not only would have been beneficial to other department heads but to the community as well.
With a round table, they could have watched just one meeting, rather than many individual ones, to find out what’s going on.
“I’m discouraged we weren’t able to achieve that, but we will move forward,” she said.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson said little during the meeting but made it clear that she had not been in favor of the round table to begin with, saying she didn’t think it “was a beneficial route for us.”
In a later interview, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she didn’t believe this was a precursor of a rocky budget process ahead. Rather, the board invited everyone for a collective budget conversation and elected officials exercised their right not to attend.
“It was just an opportunity to have everyone at the table and if they chose not, that’s OK,” Price Johnson said.
The round table will begin at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 27 in the Commissioner’s Hearing Room in Coupeville.
Contact South Whidbey Record Island County Justin Burnett at email@example.com.