Friday, July 11, 2008

The truth, not speculation and conjecture, about operations of your Board of Commissioners!

Unfortunately, the public has come to expect political campaigns to include accusations and charges from the political challengers and their minions and are somewhat anesthetized by that ritual. Most bloviated comments generally go unchallenged and unchecked because most individuals involved in the political process realize the rhetoric existing in political campaigns is not actually believed by the challengers; they are simply trying to find an issue to use as a basis for their challenge. It appears the challengers, in this political season, who mostly are political veterans, have started to believe their own half truths and deceptions because they have become more emboldened than ever at expounding their ridiculous positions. The community should be free to make up its own mind given the facts and circumstances; but that requires all the facts, not just the biased and self-serving comments of the political challengers and their minions. In most metropolitan areas it is the media who keeps political egos in check by requiring some semblance of evidence before writing editorials or endorsing those same wild claims and accusations. Without that check and balance, the general public is “at risk” of being swayed by having incomplete facts, or worse - false accusations. I have been told by many people that “if you wrestle with a pig, both of you will surely be covered with mud” and “you can’t win if you argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” So, to whom then does the task of trying to inform the citizens fall?

The answer would be one’s self; however, that is not genuinely possible in today’s rapid- pace world. Everyone is too busy and the issues are far more complex than can be understood in a cursory review. Take the Fayette County retirement plan issue, for example - a committee of people studied this issue for well over a year, and the final implementation has yet to occur. Voters really have but one true choice and that is to elect “good” people to do the investigations and make decisions on their behalf. The problem is that “good” people shy away from public service because of the unrelenting personal attacks they must endure. And yes, there are occasions that an attack on judgment and a personal action are necessary; but personal attacks on character are seldom warranted.

I grew up in the era of newspapers printing the news and, yes, there were the “tabloids” that you could pick up touting an interview with the Martian invader and the birth of a half man/half lion child. But we all knew they were tabloids because of the outlandish claims. In today’s world, some newspapers don’t have the same desire to tell the news and let the reader make up his own mind as was once the case. In today’s world, newspapers speak of “journalistic freedom” to defend, in some cases, a bias slant in reporting that is designed to sway the reader to a certain point of view. The problem is that, in some cases, it has become more difficult to determine when the “news” is published in that manner. I have heard of one local newspaper being labeled as “nothing more than a tabloid.” I don’t have a problem with that type of reporting, I only have a problem with the public not understanding what type of reporting they are actually reading. I tell myself, over and over, that newspapers are no longer the same (at least as I perceived at the time I was growing up) and are really business enterprises that are managed to make money for the owners. Their ability to financially survive with competition from the internet today is being challenged, and they must do many things to stay financially solvent. Getting attention of readers so they can sell advertising is one of those things they do. Some approach it with more zeal than others.

But, I have strayed off message a bit here. Many people do not realize that the commissioners serve on a part-time basis and are paid on a part-time basis to do the business of the county. I, like most of the existing commissioners, am a somewhat private person. We don’t go around writing letters to the editors or boasting about what we have accomplished. We are business people first and politicians last (if ever), and simply go about the task for which we were elected. We come from the old school that keeps their mouths shut, unless they have something good to say. That puts us at a distinct disadvantage when political challengers throw dirt at us. What we all agree on is the public’s right to know; what we have been unwilling to do, thus far, is actually tell the story. The truth is some people will do anything to gain power and influence and apparently say, do, publish, step upon, squash, and run over anyone or anything to regain power once had and lost. For the public’s right to know, I must tell things that I would just as soon leave in the past and move on. These things cannot be changed, only learned from to prevent their repeat in the future.

First of all: Mr. Bost, your former county commissioner, has written so many venomous letters accusing unethical dealings and alluding to some actions of this Board being devious or somehow not in your best interest. I find it particularly amusing he could know so much and never have attended any of the workshops or commission meetings – except the one in which this Board restricted the former county attorney’s work on county business to simply litigation matters. Some of you longer-term residents may remember he was the commissioner that was purportedly forced to resign his seat when he was confronted about secretly moving his residence to Florida so he could escape Georgia income tax. Apparently he did not believe that being a resident of Florida precluded his serving as a Fayette County, Georgia Commissioner – as long as the voters did not know. The special election and subsequent runoff to fill his vacated seat cost you, the taxpayers, nearly eighty thousand dollars. What comes to mind is: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Or maybe, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.”

Additionally, voters should be aware of the “pressure” tactics that he and several former county commission chairs – as a group - tried on a few of us “non-conforming” commissioners to try to sway our decision on hiring an in-house attorney. Mr. Bost is no stranger to dissatisfaction with any elected official who won’t bow to his influence. He writes of the same dissatisfaction to his elected officials in Florida and calls for their replacement as well. Here is what appeared in the St. Joe (Florida) Star attributed to him:

“Dear Editor;

Let Us Pray.

Oh, God, please comfort us while our Gulf County Commissioners rip our wallets apart. We are already paying more than double the amount of Ad Valorum Taxes per citizen than in Bay County. But still the County Commissioners are Rushing to spend millions more to build an unneeded jail and in Road Bonds. Please Lord, open the Commissioners eyes to see just how their “Spend Happy” attitudes are ripping off the Taxpayers of Gulf County. Please help them see NOW that we the Taxpayers are fed up with their wasteful spending habits. Also Dear God, let them know the Camel’s Back has already been broken with the 2006 budget. Also please help them be aware we (emphasis added) the citizens and Taxpayers plan to vote them out of office starting in 2006.

Thank you God, for giving us the freedom our form of government which provides us the power to get rid of the arrogant politicians who have lost sight of their responsibility to serve the people of Gulf County, not to rip them off.

Also dear God, please put it in our hearts to forgive the Commissioners after we get them out of office.”

Mr. Dunn, I mistakenly thought, might have limited his discussions to the issues; but the recent mail piece in which he attacked the whole commission set me straight. As a voter, one must ask the reason for his attack on the entire Commission’s integrity, when he is clearly running for a single seat. The answer was foretold when I asked many months ago if he thought he would re-enter politics and his answer was “Only if I can be Chairman.” Power does funny things to otherwise sane people, and he isn’t running for a chance to have a voice in the decision making process; he is running for Chairman, and the only way he can get there is to have his cohorts be successful as well. To accomplish that end, he must tear down all the commission members in the process. When you have the type of cohorts who simply do your bidding (a charge he has leveled at this commission), there is not a check and balance in the political process and you voters will really need to hold on to your pocketbooks – the reason I will fully disclose later. I can say without reservation that there is nothing that is decided with your current commission until all the facts are thoroughly debated. We disagree at times and the votes are split in different directions, but in the end, we accept (well, most of us) the decision of the majority and move on to the next issue. I question if someone who wants to be Chairman so bad that he will say or do anything (including false accusations and innuendos), belittling all others to get there, has the correct motivations to be there at all.

For those of you who want the executive summary, here is where you will find supporting details, should you continue to read.

  1. Why the recent 11.80% Comp and Class study covered a 7-year period, how that percentage relates to the 3-year and 6-year periods under the previous commissioners’ control, and who actually received the raises in this latest study.
  2. How the Comp and Class study may save taxpayers a million dollars or more and how the county could afford a salary increase such as this.
  3. What dramatic effect the exit of Dunn and Wells, the implementation of the Comp and Class study and other changes has had on the employee turnover rate.
  4. How Dunn and Company’s use of an insurance “intermediary,” instead of getting competitive bids, may have squandered half a million dollars annually – on just one insurance policy.
  5. Why Dunn and Company’s failure to implement a defined benefit pension plan may have resulted in their squandering some 4.4 million dollars of taxpayer money over their 8-year reign.
  6. Why this Board should be credited with a 10 million dollar reduction in the budget as compared to last year even though the actual balanced budget only shows a 6.1% (7 million dollars) decrease from last year, without jeopardizing any county services.
  7. Dunn and Company squandered thousands of dollars of your tax money by changing the former County Administrator’s contract – after they were defeated in the last election.
  8. Why more information is available to citizens regarding Board issues than ever before and how changes in meeting minutes results in both cost savings to the taxpayers and greater availability to access a recording of the meeting.
  9. What wasn’t said about the “supposedly” illegal meeting and what actions were taken at that meeting.

For those of you who continue to read, it is my sincere desire that this enlightenment and clarification of the facts will help in making your election choices. The future direction, financial health and well being of this county are dependent on your knowledgeable assessment of the facts and motivations of each candidate. Please don’t let a candidate’s ability to articulate more clearly than others lead you to believe their facts are necessarily correct. Do your homework, talk to people other than the candidates or their supporters, and ask probing questions. Do they bristle at the suggestion that there may be more information than they are sharing with you, or are they willing to discuss pros and cons of an issue to let you make up your own mind? If they fail to recognize opposing positions and discuss them, they probably aren’t open minded enough to weigh all the evidence and arrive at a solid conclusion on issues that affect you and this county. Simply making accusations does not make those accusations true, and making them more often and more loudly doesn’t either...

There are some who enter the political arena for power, recognition and glory. I can honestly say there is not one of those currently on the Fayette County Commission, including Mr. Pfeiffer. Mr. Maxwell is an attorney, and I am a Certified Public Accountant; we find it laughable that this part-time public service position could remotely tempt us to jeopardize the very oaths and stringent requirements of office we took when we joined our respective professions. I have known Commissioner Frady for over 25 years; and although I only met Commissioner Horgan some 24 months ago, I have observed both of them enough to form an opinion that, like Commissioner Maxwell and myself, neither would jeopardize their core beliefs, especially when dealing with their home, the place they have families, the place they intend to live for many years to come. Any comments to the contrary made by power-hungry individuals are not only false, misleading and contemptible; they are a desperate attempt to regain the very power they have previously abused.

Here are the facts; I think they speak for themselves.

Compensation and classification studies are normal in the course of large businesses, and Fayette County qualifies with over 700 employees. Fayette County has routinely implemented the results of such studies about every three to four years for as far back as 1985. Study results were implemented in 1985, 1988, 1992, 1995, 1998, and 2001. The prior commission, including Mr. Dunn, felt it important to remove the county policy requirement that a wage and comp study be performed on a regular basis every four years and inserted language stating studies would only be performed at the discretion of the Board. Dunn and Company never again felt the need to do a wage and compensation study.

In 2007, new Commission leadership performed their own review of employment issues facing Fayette County and learned: 1) The turnover rate in county employees had grown to an all time high of near 20% in 2006 under the Dunn regime, with public safety turnover rates hovering at near 30%; 2) Low employee morale permeated the entire spectrum of county employees; 3) Disparities existed in pay for similar duties and responsibilities between departments within the county; 4) Rampant rumors indicated compensation for some positions was grossly less than similar positions in surrounding jurisdictions; 5) Rampant rumors indicated the prior Board of Commissioners manipulated the last wage and compensation study results by changing the comparable jurisdictions to some of their own choosing (purportedly to reduce the indicated salary increases in the study), rather than accept the study experts’ decisions; and

6) Dissatisfaction with the prior study, of 6 years earlier, because reviewers were reportedly instructed to omit certain positions from their study.

Believing items one and two were potentially a result of items 3 through 6, the majority of this Board, including Commissioner Pfeiffer, determined an independent compensation and classification study was the most effective and efficient method of settling all those issues. An independent and unbiased study was commissioned and performed by personnel from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. These people perform hundreds of these studies for all sizes of government and are considered experts in this area. The study was designed to determine if the job descriptions for each position adequately reflected the job responsibilities of that position and if the updated job description was fairly and adequately compensated. The results of the UGA study were presented to the Board of Commissioners and implemented at its most conservative level (the least expensive level), placing Fayette County employees squarely in the middle of the compensation range with comparable governments as determined by the UGA experts.

In 1998, when the compensation and classification study conducted by the Atlanta Regional Commission was implemented, employees received a total compensation increase for that year of 12.13%. Just three years later, in 2001, a compensation and classification study conducted by MGT Corporation was implemented and employees received a total compensation increase for that year of 10.88%. Those two studies, which covered about 6 years, resulted in a total 23.01% increase in employee compensation for those two years. The current UGA study, which actually covers 7 years, results in a total compensation increase of 11.80% (7.86% for the budget year ending June 2008, 2.28% in the 2009 budget and 1.66% in the 2010 budget). I find it incomprehensible that this 7-year study is being called “excessive” and “too expensive” when it pales in comparison to the 23.01% 6-year period under the Dunn and Company years.

There are several observations worth mentioning: 1) Unlike the prior studies, which were implemented all in one year, the current UGA study is being implemented over three budget years to soften the impact; 2) Employees received no performance pay for the 2008 budget year, which has traditionally been 2.5% of employee compensation.

3) Employees received no cost of living (COLA) raise for 2009, which has been traditionally about 3% of compensation (implementation of the UGA study resulted in salaries being adjusted to market value and a COLA was not considered necessary). With these facts, most people see a completely different picture from that portrayed with media headlines and letters to the editor by Messrs. Dunn, Pfeiffer and Bost.

Most statisticians agree figures can lead to distortions of fact when taken out of context and without reasonable knowledge of the underlying situation. You probably don’t know that 74% of the county workforce earns under $50,000 per year and 55% earn between $20,000 and $40,000 per year. The average increase in compensation for employees who make over $50,000 per year was about 1.5%. The average increase for employees making under $30,000 per year was about 14.22%. And the average increase for the bulk of the workforce who earns $30,000 to $50,000 per year was a whopping 3.37%. As can be seen, the bulk of the raises went to those employees who are at the lower end of the economic spectrum and are most affected by the rising costs of living – think about simply driving to work with higher petroleum costs. And remember, the amount of this increase is partly due to the lack of a compensation study by Dunn and Company for the last years of their reign. Compare our 7-year 11.80% with either their 6-year rate of 23.01% or their 3-year rate of 10.88%, and it is easy to see who is the more conservative.

Although these facts reveal a clearer picture, most questions taxpayers want answers to are: 1) Does the implementation of the UGA study result in improvement of any of the problems, whether perceived or real, existing prior to the study?; And, 2) How do we pay for the implementation of the study?

As to the effect of the study…….based on what we observe and what we are told: Employee morale is higher than at any time in the past 8 years, and the UGA study eliminated all discussions of bias in the study itself. These observations and discussions are supported by a look at the employee turnover rate which has declined from an historic high of near 20% under Dunn and Company’s guidance in 2006 to 14% in 2007 (under the new Board leadership) and, remarkably…a current year rate of only 3.88%. A stable workforce results in effective and efficient service to the public. To put this in financial perspective, training costs for a single public safety position has been estimated at seventy to one hundred thousand dollars – not including the additional supervisory time required to monitor the trainees (remember this was a 30% turnover rate under Dunn and Company). A dramatic reduction in turnover rate translates into a dramatic reduction in training costs, with increased safety to the public as an added bonus. Elimination of 20 “trainees” per year would result in about a million dollar savings in training costs.

In addition to lower training costs, more efficient service is provided by better trained (retained) personnel, resulting in a reduced need to hire more personnel. Another major factor in paying for these raises is four actions we took in the first few months of 2007. Those four actions were: 1) We obtained a competing proposal for the county health insurance policy, thus eliminating the intermediary negotiator the previous Board had used to keep insurance costs “under control”; 2) We obtained a competing proposal for the county property and casualty insurance policy, thus eliminating the intermediary negotiator the previous Board had used to keep insurance costs “under control”; 3) We eliminated the incessant lawsuits between the Previous Board and the Sheriff; and 4) We retained a staff attorney to handle routine legal matters. These four items led to savings for county taxpayers of around 1.2 million dollars per year. As a taxpayer one should ask why the “intermediary negotiator.” who was supposed to possess valuable knowledge of the insurance market, was not able to achieve similar savings as ours; and why would the former Board not simply put the insurance out for bid, as we did this year?

In addition to the above resources made available to pay for the implementation of the UGA study, the leadership of this Board also began to look at streamlining and controlling costs wherever possible. A significant amount will come from the implementation of the defined benefit plan when it is implemented. Current Board leadership, unlike Ms. Wells and Messrs. Dunn and Pfeiffer, were willing to study the issue rather than think we knew more than the retirement specialists who work in that area. The result was somewhat surprising in that the defined benefit plan, as designed, is expected to save the county taxpayers around $550,000 per year in retirement plan payments, while giving the county employees a maximum guaranteed retirement payment of 45% of their salary during each year of their retirement. This plan was specifically designed to result in the county’s payment to the defined benefit plan being no more than the 4% currently being paid into the defined contribution retirement plan.

While on the subject of the DB plan, I should point out that this Board’s leadership obtained the free services of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia’s retirement specialists who helped design the plan to only require a 3.8% retirement plan contribution (as close to 4% as possible) and we then hired, at a nominal cost, an independent actuary to verify that this amount was reasonable and achievable. We have been told by the independent actuary that there is only a 1% probability the average contribution to the plan would be greater than 3.8% and a 75% probability the highest amount the county would be required to pay in any one year is 4.6%. Mathematically, a 4.6% contribution would be .6% (six tenths of a per cent) greater than the county is now paying into the existing plan, and equates to about $192,000. We felt the savings of $550,000 per year was worth the risk of $192,000 per year.

Still, in an effort to further reduce any future risk by some unforeseen calamity, we established two goals of the new plan: 1. Obtain participation of the employees in any future risk due to poor earnings or any other causes; and 2) Stabilize any contributions so the total payments made by the county can be properly budgeted without undue surprises.

To accomplish the first goal the employees are required to contribute 2.5% of their salary to the retirement plan and will be required to participate to a greater extent in the unlikely event the county contribution ever exceeds 6.3%.

To accomplish the second goal, we agreed to eliminate the required 4% match that the county is now obligated to make to the deferred compensation plan and replace it with an annual match that will be determined by the difference in 6.3% and the amount required to be made to the defined benefit retirement plan (Currently calculated at 3.8%). This fluid allocation between the two plans ensures the County’s liability under the DB plan is manageable without creating an unexpected budget crisis.

Two separate “experts” have calculated similar results, and this Board has worked diligently to ensure there is minimal risk to county taxpayers. For Fayette County to be required to make any payment above the 6.3%, as now contemplated, would require BOTH actuaries’ calculations to be in error by over 65%. Additionally, for the county to have a financial obligation in excess of the 8% presently committed to employees (under the 4% County defined contribution retirement plan and the 4% matching deferred compensation plan), BOTH independent actuarial calculations would have to be in error by over 255%. A calamity of this proportion has never been recorded since government plans were first established (and annual funding was made as required).

Unconvinced, there are still some who cry for comparison with the Henry County retirement plan attempting to brand this Commission as “bankrupting the county.” Such comparisons, which are known to be untrue or can readily be debunked as untrue, are only political posturing and fear-mongering in order to gain favor with the voters.

The Henry plan was designed to meet the needs of Henry County and they, just as Fayette, had a problem with employee turnover. They agreed to cover employees’ prior years of service; unlike the proposed Fayette plan which was designed for Fayette County and only covers the years worked after the plan is implemented. The difference is vast and further shows that the current leadership of the Fayette Board is committed to fundamental fiscal conservatism.

There is also a cry that defined benefit plans have bankrupted many businesses, and critics point to United and Delta airlines. The truth is that the tax laws, in the past, allowed those companies to promise a pension plan payment and take an income tax deduction for that promise. No actual funding (payment) was required. Additionally, the rules on financial transactions did not require those companies to disclose or account for the pension liability in their financial statements to stockholders. This was a “win/win” for those companies. They simply made a promise, got a tax deduction and showed their investors a wonderful return on their investment. When tax laws and accounting disclosure laws were changed to force those companies to begin “catching up” for the already tax deducted pension promises, they had long since spent the money from which the payments should have been made. However, the regulations changed to force those companies to begin making payments into the pension plan for the many years for which they had previously had a “free” ride. This “catch up” in contributions is what caused the financial hardships of these companies. A situation such as this can no longer occur due to changes in rules and regulations. An examination of recent government plan history in Georgia shows there are more governments moving to defined benefit plans than there are ones that are moving away from defined benefit plans, and independent evaluations of retirement plans have shown that pension plans achieve a better return on their investments primarily because they have professional money managers.

Still another cry that is heard regarding the defined benefit plan is that any future Board could give employees more benefits and cost the county more money. With that I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, prior Boards of Commissioners have given more and more retirement benefits to employees up to the point that employees now have 8% of their compensation available for retirement and no protective provision to ensure that after 30 years of employment they will have any more than a “gold watch" to live their retirement with. If Dunn and Company had simply investigated and implemented the defined benefit plan instead of self determining it was too expensive, county employees would have a well-deserved retirement check and the county taxpayers would have saved around $550,000 per year during their 8-year reign. That amounts to 4.4 million dollars taken from the taxpayer’s pocket by stubbornness, ineptitude or simply a lack of vision by those Board members.

All this pension information was readily available and these results would have been obvious if those criticizing the defined benefit pension plan would have taken the time to attend the many open and advertised meetings of the retirement study committee, which labored for a year with its analysis.

Messrs. Dunn and Bost correctly point out the just adopted budget includes pay raises for county employees, but fail to state that the percentage of increase would not have been so great if Ms. Wells, Mr. Dunn and Mr. Pfeiffer had not omitted a pay study for 7 long years. Additionally they conveniently omit the fact that the overall county budget – even after implementing the raises to which they begrudge faithful lower-paid county employees – is a 6.1 % decrease over the prior year. They are pointing out a 3 million dollar pay raise while ignoring the decrease of some 7 million dollars in the budget for this year. With a net budget reduction of over 7 million dollars, one could argue that the current Board has really reduced the budget by 10 million dollars. Either way you want to argue it, the net result is a budget that is 7 million dollars less than last year, with no degradation of service.

At the Commission meeting of just last week (July 2,) the results of the property and casualty insurance bids were released - last year we solicited a competitive quote, while this year we actually invited bids - and it shows another $265,000 reduction in premiums just for this one type of insurance. This reduction is a direct result of putting this insurance out for bid and is in addition to the negotiated savings of some 250,000 dollars on the same policy last year. I find it somewhat ironic that Messrs. Dunn and Bost would point to the influence of Commissioner Frady as a bad thing when he and Commissioner Horgan were the very two who asked us newly elected commissioners to solicit a competitive quote last year and to put this out for bids this year. Citizens of Fayette County should question why this was never bid by Dunn and Company when the current Commission has shown a significant reduction in premiums by simply bidding it out. And lest you are wondering, the total of over 500,000 dollars in savings in this one policy – for the same or better coverage – represents a 50% savings in premiums since the Wells’ and Dunn’s departure from the Board in the last election.

As to the development of this year’s budget, this Board instructed the administration (that would be interim Administrator Mr. Krakeel and the finance staff) to seek cooperation from all department heads and constitutional officers to diligently review their budgets for items or services that they had included as “may need” instead of “must have.” The cooperative spirit in which they responded is evident in the staff’s comments and in the fact that there were few appeals to the amounts initially established in administrative review. In fact, this Board has received letters lauding the fact that the budget process was the smoothest in recent history and commends Mr. Krakeel and staff on their thoroughness, thoughtfulness and diligence in the process. It has been alluded to by Mr. Pfeiffer that there was undue pressure put on departments and constitutional officers to pare their budgets, purportedly to have enough money to implement the UGA study. I want to openly state our full support for Mr. Krakeel and the finance staff and categorically deny that any undue pressure was put on any of the department heads; and, in fact, I am sure some former commissioners will attest to the fact that undue pressure put on constitutional officers often backfires.

Additionally, I speculate that one of the reasons the budget process was smooth is because it was done openly and with an element of trust in the division directors, department heads and constitutional officers to deliver their budget requests covering only those resources required for delivering the services to Fayette citizens with which they were charged. I think this Board’s willingness to evaluate changes during the ensuing year and not simply reject a request because it “wasn’t in the budget” is a huge contributing factor in the trust that is obviously included in these budget requests. This is the fundamental reason that we budget a contingency line – to cover unanticipated needs. I am satisfied this budget was derived in a cooperative spirit and is a fiscally sound representation of what can be accomplished when we all work together. The mere fact that we are able to reduce our budget should be an indication of the phenomenal job this administration is doing; especially when we hear and read that other governments, some a fraction of our size, are wrestling with million dollar deficits. Our ability to react and respond to the changing economic environment in which we find ourselves today is evidenced by this budget and its overall 6% reduction over last year. To accomplish all this Board has undertaken within this budget and still be able to maintain a 6% reduction from last year is nothing short of remarkable. We owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Krakeel and the entire Fayette County leadership team – including constitutional officers - for a job we consider very well done!

On the issue of the SPLOST, I am surprised that candidate Dunn would not realize the very slowdown in the economy he touts will result in less SPLOST collections over the life of the SPLOST. That very fact necessitates that we stretch the SPLOST dollars to get as many of the listed SPLOST projects done as possible. County employees can perform many of the construction tasks that are listed under the SPLOST and accomplish them less expensively than any outside contractor because we do so without a “profit” motive. This allows us to stretch the SPLOST dollars farther and accomplish more with less money. Additionally, we can accomplish projects faster since we do not have to proceed through the “bid” process for items we perform in-house. This Board went to great pains to ensure that there were no undue effects on routine county maintenance and the only effect, as candidate Dunn surely knows, is timing. For example: instead of paving Sneed Road now (which is currently dirt), it will be delayed until fall. But that road should have been finished years ago but was delayed primarily because his administration failed to get the required rights of way to pave it. The current Board stepped up and insisted property owners make good on their promise of donating the right of way to finish the project or we would be forced to abandon it – some 2 years after its scheduled completion date. Candidate Dunn’s opinion that we should use contractors rather than using county crews to do SPLOST work reeks of some allegiance to contractors or either an utter disregard for the taxpayers of this county.

I should also mention the effect of his administration not concurrently working on multiple SPLOST projects. As a result, many of the intersections have no engineering work performed on them because the engineer was never given the go ahead to do the work. With 40 million in SPLOST dollars in the bank, you should be asking why not?

Why did it take his administration years to design a central bypass around the hospital, resulting in its being a dead end into Highway 54; while it took the current Board less than 18 months to redesign it into a true bypass and actually begin construction? His administration also appears to have applied the same pattern to projects outside the SPLOST. For example: Why did it take his administration years to work on repaving Old Road when it took the current administration less than a year to change the design, finish the right of way acquisition and complete construction? This one act affects the safety of every driver that traverses Highway 85 north of Fayetteville because Old Road is the rear entrance to Kenwood Business Park and helps eliminate the truck traffic entering Highway 85 from that park.

Another fact that came to light just last Commission meeting was the results of a reorganization study of the county Finance Department. Instigated by administration and performed by department leadership, the results will provide more in-depth service to the various departments and better management of the county budget. It will result in the increase of one existing salary of about $8,000 per year and the elimination of one budgeted position with an annual salary of $38,000 per year. That is a net savings of $30,000 per year and is just the start of an in-depth look at how the county can operate more effectively and efficiently. I should also comment on a claim by candidate Dunn that filling 20 currently frozen positions would lead to an increase in the county salaries and benefits. I would have expected a knowledgeable former commissioner to understand that these positions are already included in the budget - (the 7-million-dollars- saved budget) and filling them would have no effect on that budget. The leadership of this Board is committed to filling any critical position to ensure taxpayer services do not unduly suffer, but we also realize that it is prudent to be careful with taxpayer money that is entrusted to us and will not fill a position unless there is a demonstrated need. And surely candidate Dunn should have learned in 8 years that there are some positions that have chronic turnover – although the current 3.88% turnover rate doesn’t lend itself to experiencing the same personnel problems as his record high near 20% rate did. It is simply amazing that with mainly a change in attitude toward employees, the county now has a stable workforce.

I would be remiss if I did not comment on Mr. Bost’s assertion that this Board fired the former county administrator. We did indeed do that, and under her contract we had the right to do that at any time – with or without cause. What he did not point out was the twelve-month severance payment, upon termination, was a product of his buddies, Dunn and Company, in a realm where severance pay is normally 3-6 months, and where there are some who serve in similar positions without any severance at all. Taxpayers should ask why Dunn and Company felt a one-year severance package was warranted for someone who had zero experience in a county administrator position. And then after Wells and Dunn were defeated in 2006, they (along with Mr. Pfeiffer) changed her contract to include non-renewal of her contract as a reason to pay the severance payment (severance was previously required only on dismissal, not upon non-renewal.) And the other item that most Fayette Citizens are unaware of is the small clause requiring Fayette County to pay her health insurance until she qualifies for Medicare (about 12 years). That change, with no proviso to stop it if she was subsequently employed, costs you, the taxpayers of Fayette County, thousands of dollars per year. This means, although the former County Administrator is now employed by Tyrone government, it is Fayette County that continues to pay her health insurance.

I am at a loss as to how those so bold as to do this could call themselves conservatives.

Much ado has been made over the minutes or, as some claim, lack thereof. There have been allusions to the fact that our adopted minutes are less informative to the citizens of this county than they used to be, and there have been questions as to the “correctness” of the minutes. Here are the bare facts:

  1. The agenda for Board meetings has been posted on the county web site for some years now... actually predating the current county leadership.
  2. The backup data received by the sitting Commissioners from which they evaluate agenda items and requests was added to the county website by the current Board to better inform those who want to understand more of an agenda item – before it is discussed and voted upon.
  3. Prior to 2007, the minutes of County Commission meetings were recorded on audio tape, transcribed (as best they could be understood from the audio) by staff; adopted by the Board; and the recording was systematically and routinely destroyed – purportedly at the instruction of the former county attorney (who claims he only told them to record over the old minutes – not to destroy them. By design, there is no possibility any citizen can challenge the accuracy of the minutes since there is no recording to compare the adopted minutes to. It is, therefore, impossible to attest to whether those minutes are “verbatim” or not. Any claim they are or are not is only based on the accuracy of one person’s memory.
  4. During 2007, the current leadership stopped the routine process of destroying the recordings made of each Commission meeting; and now, those recordings are available from the Clerk’s office.
  5. During 2007, the current leadership, acting on the advice of counsel, undertook to reduce the voluminous nature of the minutes (this includes the staff time to compile the minutes for adoption, the storage medium used to retain the adopted minutes and the space requirements for storing those official minutes). We looked at the frequency and nature of requests for copies and concluded that over the years the very, very few and infrequent requests to read and copy the minutes were made. Mostly requests were by attorneys who wanted to sue the county, by candidates who wanted to find a way to discredit whomever they wanted to run against, and by a limited number of citizens who either had an axe to grind against someone or simply wanted to be more informed on a particular issue. The number that fit the last group was infinitesimally small. In fact, the total number of inquiries each year could be counted on one’s fingers. The result of this analysis led to a reduction in the voluminous nature of the minutes to something manageable from both a time and cost standpoint. Realizing that there may be times that one would want to know every word that was uttered, the audio tapes for every meeting have been catalogued for those very few individuals who have the need or inclination to scrutinize every syllable. To attempt to discredit the character of the current administration and some Board members because one cannot sit in the comfort of one’s office and scrutinize the detail does not mean the detail is not available, as some would have the public believe.
  6. The minutes that we currently adopt are accurate representations of the overall discussion held by the Board and, as required by law, also include the motion, seconds and vote of the Board members. The mere fact that this Board has elected to retain the audio recordings is evidence they value the rights of citizens to have a first-hand ability to review any and all proceedings of this public body more than has been done in the past. To suggest otherwise is hogwash.

Unlike Dunn and Company, we felt it more open to allow you to have an informed voice and participate in the decision making process – not keep you in the dark and only allow you to read about it in the minutes, if you were so inclined.

For several months (long before Mr. Pfeiffer’s tirade about the minutes), we have been working on how to tie the audio (remember that this Board saves the recordings of meetings) to the minute summaries which appear on the county website. The idea is to allow a web browser to “play” the section of the recording corresponding to the minutes that are being read as a “click it” option. It would cost nearly 25,000 dollars plus 15,000 dollars annually to outsource this, so we are continuing to do research on performing this function in-house. Although we now know it is technologically possible, we still do not know how difficult it is to do or how much it may cost.

With regard to the supposedly illegal meeting, missing in any discussion is the fact that ….THERE WAS NO OFFICIAL ACTION TAKEN AT THE SUPPOSEDLY ILLEGAL MEETING. I would think reasonable minds would wonder what all the hoopla is about if there were no action taken. As to the correction of the executive session affidavit, Commissioner Pfeiffer, along with the rest of us, felt it was the correct thing to do. The vote to correct was 5-0. The correction is not a change to anything except the executive session affidavit stating what was discussed in executive session. The correction allowed me to sign a new affidavit stating we discussed a personnel matter instead of a legal matter. In reality, this is exactly what we did. This is an allowable item to be discussed in executive session. Whether the discussion took place in the little room or the big room does not alter the topic of the discussion that took place. What precipitated that executive session was our receipt of legal filings from the court, made by the former county attorneys, requesting their removal as counsel representing the county in any and all pending lawsuits. Staff was given the instruction to determine if hiring replacement counsel was within their legal jurisdiction and told, if so, then, do it! Staff was given instruction to retain a temporary part-time interim attorney until the newly created in-house attorney position could be filled.

Maybe you should just read the Georgia State Attorney General’s letter I understand that Commissioner Horgan has posted on his website and see for yourself. I received notice of the complaint when a newspaper reporter called me to ask my opinion of the letter Commissioner Pfeiffer had sent to the Attorney General.

For now, I’ll forego discussion of spending millions to build recreation facilities over the objections of (or maybe more appropriately, without the knowledge or recommendation of the recreation commission); the lack of written policies and procedures (for a county of 700 employees); continuation of administrative policies such as the administering of FMLA which saved the taxpayer’s an illusory 10,000 dollars while in reality costing twenty to thirty thousand dollars to administer; undisclosed campaign contributions and conflicts of interest with persons contracted to do county business; and the nearly $450,000 per year in Georgia Department of Transportation road funds that had not been claimed by Dunn and Company’s administration for years (This was revealed on an official visit to DOT, at the suggestion of Commissioner Frady, to discuss help with county road funding. We were told the unclaimed funds were not recoverable after each DOT fiscal year had already ended).

All this was going on while they were “watching” your tax dollars.

As Paul Harvey would say – now you know …the rest… of the story……….!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

An Open Letter to the Citizens of Fayette County Georgia....

Over the last 18 months that I have been in office, I have avoided letter writing campaigns to the media outlets. Quite frankly, I have held firm the belief that your vote for me reflected your trust in my ability to serve as your representative and to make sound and informed decisions on your behalf; and this I have and will continue to do. I am reminded of my mother’s philosophy that if “you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Unfortunately, our current political climate mandates that something be said, and not meaning to disrespect my mom, the “truth” needs to be told rather than the suppositions, personal opinion, idle rhetoric and, with all due respect, a total disregard for the time honored tradition of political discourse within the bounds of propriety.

Many of you, I am sure, have read the recent politically self-serving, vicious attacks on your current Board of Commissioners and their purported total disregard for the fiduciary responsibility they pledged to hold sacred. Let me state unequivocally that, as a body, your Board of Commissioners have taken this responsibility very seriously and have exercised our duties with due diligence, performing exhaustive research and accumulating necessary data to support the decisions that have been made. The following are the FACTS; they are appropriately set out in official actions of this Board, are systematically documented, and are available for your full review. It is time that you, the citizens, receive the FACTS and not the distorted, politically motivated, non-factual information with which you have been bombarded.

Headline: County employees receive huge pay increases. The FACTS are that employees overall did not receive huge pay increases. Employees making between $20,000 and $30,000 received the lion’s share of pay increases. Employees earning over $50,000 per year got an average of 1.5%. The Compensation and Classification Study conducted independently by the University of Georgia was the first such study conducted in more than 7 years, and the resulting increases will be implemented over a 3 year period. The vast majority of County employees will see their pay increase by less than 2% per year over this time period as a result of the pay study.

Headline: Proposed Employee Pension Plan will bankrupt the County. The FACTS are the average Fayette County employee has $36,000 in their retirement account and, according to two independently conducted actuarial studies; the majority of county employees will not have enough money in their accounts to retire. The FACT is that from 2000 thru 2006 employee turnover in Fayette County increased to 20% for the general workforce and approached 30% for public safety employees. The reason cited by the vast majority of employees for leaving Fayette County was, “Fayette County is not competitive with surrounding jurisdictions.” You probably did not know that the majority of our workforce resides outside of Fayette County. The FACT is that due to this Board’s actions over the last 18 months, our turnover rate has decreased dramatically from its all time high in 2006 to its current level of 3.8%, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars in training and recruiting costs. The FACT is that the proposed retirement plan currently under consideration by the Board will result in annual savings to the County of approximately $550,000 per year, provide a better retirement plan than the one currently in place and both can be accomplished with a risk factor of minimal proportion. This new plan will allow us to compete for quality employees both within and outside of Fayette County.

Headline: County Budget Reflects Poor Financial Management. The FACTS speak for themselves. The County will not increase taxes this year, unlike many other jurisdictions; yet at the same time we will be able to maintain current service levels and have reduced the Fiscal Year 2009 budget by over 6%, representing a reduction in spending of approximately $7,000,000 – after implementation of salary increases. One should ask how is it possible to decrease the budget, maintain current service levels and not increase taxes given the current economy, rising fuel prices and increases in other operating expenses. The answer is straightforward: cooperation in scrutinizing all spending, elimination of unnecessary expenditures and improvement of efficiencies in operations wherever possible. That is what we have done, and that is what I will strive to continue to do on your behalf. It is an insult to suggest, as some have done, the department heads and constitutional officers, who so valiantly worked to reduce their budget in light of today’s economic challenges would not have done so without “pressure” from their superiors.

Beginning last year in anticipation of reduced revenues, the Board of Commissioners directed the County Manager to freeze all vacancies that were not critical in providing services. Currently there are 23 positions that have not been filled, representing a cash savings of approximately $1,200,000. We hired in-house legal counsel, and that alone has saved $400,000 in legal expense during its first year. We bid out insurance contracts rather than using a previously used intermediary, resulting in savings of approximately $900,000. We invested in sorely needed technology improvements, saving in excess of $100,000 in personnel costs. These are just some of the initiatives that your Board of Commissioners has undertaken in order to balance the budget in these uncertain economic times. One Constitutional Officer wrote to us stating: “In light of the difficult economic times this budget process was the most open and fair process that I have witnessed during my service of more than 30 years.”

There are many other issues that I as your Chairman could address, such as: Why did the previous Board provide a golden parachute for the former County Administrator (who had zero prior experience as a County Administrator) which consisted of twelve months’ salary and benefits plus paid health care coverage for the next 12 years at a cost to the taxpayers of approximately $100,000; Why is this County facing a Federal lawsuit because the previous Board purportedly violated a taxpayer’s First Amendment Right to Free Speech; Why were political contributions from those doing business with the county never disclosed; and, Why did this county lose more than 16 senior managers during the previous Board’s tenure? The list of why’s is long but that’s a discussion for another day. Suffice it to say that I am confident we have exercised our responsibilities with due diligence, ensuring a conservative fiscal philosophy on spending your tax dollars and a priority on an open government. Those who profess that the state of the County is in shambles are nothing more than political fear-mongers making a feeble attempt to regain their lost power and influence by using distortions of facts, innuendos and rhetoric to create a false sense of insecurity in those they prey upon. I welcome your inquiries and will respond to any concerns or questions that you may have. Contact me via

Your respectful servant,

Jack Smith, Chairman

Fayette County Board of Commissioners