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Who will get "In The Arena" from Chickamauga?
If you have not been in a coma for the past year, you are aware that the country has been facing some challenges. One of the often cited and discussed problems is the lack of civics education and knowledge among youth and adults as well. It is strange that both parties recognize the problem, but they are unsure of how to fix it. While I don't have a perfect solution, I do have some suggestions with far reaching effects.
But before I begin that discussion, let me offer the following points to consider.
An audit for fiscal year 2020 was submitted by the county's audit firm on April 15 2021. By June 30, 2021, the county transferred it to the state (per state law). However, as of the date of publication, the chairman STILL has not made the audit available to the public or submitted it to the board for approval, as required by law. In previous years the audit was presented to the public within days of delivery by the audit firm. Audit results for fiscal year 2021 are due to the state by the end of this month. The county should receive it soon if it hasn’t already.
While Chairman Whitfield had the audit from FY 2020 and had turned it into the state, the board was not able to review it before adopting the budget last September.
I wrote on this subject last July, which prompted a response from Chairman Whitfield on UCTV's weekly county call-in show. In his remarks, he stated that the audit document was a draft and contained errors and missing information, but once corrected, it would be presented by the audit firm to the board and the public. We're still waiting. Is the state auditor aware Walker County submitted a supposedly draft financial statement?
There is a $25,000 limit imposed by the county governing authority enabling act and the county code on how much a chairman may spend. If an action or purchase exceeds that amount, board approval is necessary.
As part of the enabling act, the board (not the chairman) has authority over the internal organization and structure of county government.
Since the board approved the 2022 budget, Chairman Whitfield has created two completely new positions in two different departments. Both positions have also been filled with new hires. I cannot find any record of either position having been advertised for public applications. They are both salaried positions. Both positions have an annual salary that goes well beyond the $25,000 spending limit set for the chairman in the enabling act. Neither the creation of new positions nor the funding of them was presented to the board.
Furthermore, state law requires that any increase or decrease in a line item or summary appropriation amount must be approved by the board through a budget amendment resolution. As a result of the funding requirements for both positions, an amendment to the budget was required at a regular board meeting. That never happened.
In accordance with the EEOC, ADA, and DOL, the chairman determines personnel decisions including hiring and firing. Nevertheless, he is not permitted to create new positions without board approval unless there are excess funds available in the same department category.
In 2017, Whitfield hired an HR director for the county. Her tenure ended in September 2020. He failed to hire a replacement until September 2021, leaving the county without an HR director for almost a year. Interestingly, the new employee left in January. Additionally, if you are creating new positions and making significant changes to the internal organization of the county, you might wish to enlist the assistance of an HR director. The following article describes the lawsuit filed in response to Whitfield's failure to disclose an email authored by the first HR director of Walker County.
Having said all of that, I have an ongoing question when I hear about a new transparency trainwreck or an aversion to accountability from Chairman Whitfield: Where are the district commissioners? Is there any oversight? Despite ample evidence that constraining the chairman is necessary, the board has not moved to do so. There have been no efforts made to ensure the board has proper budgetary controls enforced, nor is it possible to ensure accountability or increase transparency. The following are other similar examples and derelictions of duty that I detailed. District commissioners and chairman have not refuted any of the facts outlined in these articles.
Among the more frustrating shortcomings of this board is the lack of citizen involvement since taking office. The public meetings each month have witnessed little debate or substantial board discussion on most issues and a high number of unanimous decisions. But on several matters, Commissioners Hart and Blakemore stood out from the Whitfield-led board when it came to enacting or advocating for their constituents' rights, including the gateway rezone vote.
Public trust in government and leadership at every level has eroded steadily since the 1960s due to similar failures of government and leadership. One of the causes is that we have a civics problem. We need to revitalize civic participation. The first step to achieving civic virtue in children and adults is to engage them in civic life. Participation in civic life goes beyond voting. Participation embraces being a good citizen, doing your part to help improve your community, and caring for your fellow citizens. Churches, neighborhood groups, and other organizations like local Lions and Rotary Clubs have faced a decline in membership and participation in recent years. Now more than ever before, we need to make an innovative collaborative effort to increase membership and participation in our civic organizations in order to involve young and old alike.
It is great if reading about the leadership failures and policy stumbles in our local government motivates you to start voting and inspires others to do the same, or if it motivates you to pay closer attention to local issues. Acts of good citizenship. Hopefully, some readers of these columns and those watching the local political circus will become motivated to take direct action.
Next week, March 7-10, is the qualifying period for local elections. Mark Askew(district 2) and Robert Blakemore(district 1) are up for reelection this year. Two school board districts are as well. The primary election will be held in May.
The clip below depicts President Theodore Roosevelt's famous address on citizenship in a republic. The speech explained civic virtue and duty in a timeless call to action Virtuous and capable citizens have long been abundant in Chickamauga. We need some of them to get "In The Arena" to fight for the good of all Walker County residents.