Cronyism Begins at Home

I only went to the Thursday Admin meeting because Commissioner Simon Hare dared us. We were told by Mark Seligman that restricting televising of public meetings was on the agenda, “action requested,” and it would be our only chance to comment publicly. Challenged on deciding such a controversial item in an Admin meeting, Hare said that matters of policy or money always are brought to the Weekly Business Session. He would not admit that this was a matter of policy; it also turned out to be a money matter.

A good half-dozen citizens showed up, not all opposed to the change. The Board moved up two “action” items most likely to draw comment. They first handled the request from our Chief Financial Officer to eliminate our Facilities Manager, Rich Halliday. His department had been running in the red for a while. Not his fault, she said; energy prices have been rising. But the County is facing a real financial bind when federal money runs out, and we would save $73,000 if we eliminated his position. No mention was made of what his duties are or who would assume them.

He got up to defend his job. He pays all of the County’s utility bills out of his budget, which comes from the other departments. He explained that the Budget Committee had underfunded his department and that he had been paying the County’s bills out of reserves. But he doesn’t only pay bills; he oversees county projects, 13 of them at this time. Before, this was done by contract; he saves the County money by doing it in-house.

Several citizens and Sandi Cassanelli defended this gentleman’s job vigorously, though they usually seek to cut the budget. Cassanelli pointed out that she’d only been told of this item the day before, and Halliday the day before that. Dale Matthews pointed out that the real reason that they were firing Halliday is that he likes Sandi Cassanelli, and that’s not allowed; all part of the “Recall Cassanelli” effort. Jack Brown asked who would do his job. No answer. Despite all objections, the item passed 2-1, Hare and Don Reedy voting in favour.

Then came the Televised Meetings policy. It turned out that it was not only about stopping the televising of Legal and Staff meetings, but restoring RVTV’s contract to broadcast and re-broadcast all televised meetings on our cable channel. The Board voted 2-1 to use PEG (Public, Education and Government) funds from Charter Cable to pay them, the better to save General Fund money for the Sheriff.

They did it despite Chairwoman Cassanelli pointing out that PEG funds are only for capital improvements, not broadcasting, and our Community Access producers presently broadcast half the week for free, and could do a better job than RVTV all week if we bought a computerized playback machine from that fund. She also said that there are not enough PEG funds to pay RVTV’s contract in any case, so money will come out of the General Fund. Despite this, Commissioner Reedy still said they would be saving money for the Sheriff.

So, after firing an admittedly good employee by eliminating his very necessary position, supposedly to save money when they can’t possible fill a projected $6 million hole by cutting staff, they voted to illegally spend PEG funds and General Funds on broadcasting that can be done by others for free.

The move also greatly restricts how often public meetings are re-broadcast, since RVTV runs a lot of filler infomercials (illegal on government channels) to pad their budget, while our Community Access producers run only our public meetings.

The frosting on this cronyism cake is that I would never have known about the first item if Seligman and Hare hadn’t told us to come and comment on the second, because the elimination of our County Facilities Manager didn’t even make the day’s news.

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