Bucks County, PA – Watching Our Dollars With No Sense

It’s been a little while since I took a look at my home stomping grounds, but I’m prompted to do so based on this “Thumbs Down” item that appeared in the Courier Times this morning…

To county Commissioners Charley Martin and Jim Cawley for refusing to provide more time for decisions about who gets hired and fired by those doing the hiring and firing. That would be the three county commissioners and the county controller; together, the four comprise the county salary board.

The request came from Commissioner Diane Marseglia. The lone Democrat argued that board members should receive pending changes at least five days before a salary board meeting, as opposed to the current two days, so proposed hirings, firings and salary increases wouldn’t have to be rushed through the approval process.

The controller agreed.

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, the Republicans disagreed.

Marseglia made a good point when she called the pair’s opposition “another example of keeping decisions under wraps so that transparency is impossible.”

Gosh, Diane, you are such a great, big silly, aren’t you?

Why, didn’t you get it after Chief Operations Office Dave Sanko locked you out of the commissioners’ offices last year because you gave the combination to reporters (here)? Or when the plans for the new criminal justice center in Doylestown were not made available to you (I should emphasize that that’s my suspicion from this post, but I don’t know that for a fact)?

This is Mayberry Bucks County, remember? Ruled by your fellow commissioners in the Repug majority, Jim Cawley and Charley (“I Have A Semi-Open Mind”) Martin. When have they EVER been interested in full disclosure in these matters?

To be fair, though, the following should be noted from last December (here – registration required)…

For the third straight year, Bucks County residents will not have a property-tax increase.

County commissioners yesterday adopted a $467.6 million budget for 2009 that dips into rainy-day money to hold the line on taxes.

Commendable, to be sure. However, later in the story we learn the following…

Minority Commissioner Diane Marseglia, a Democrat, cast the only vote against adopting the budget. Like Cawley, Marseglia praised the county Finance Department and said it had functioned in spite of “almost no direct conversation with the commissioners, weak cooperation with several departments, and a shortage of public feedback.”

Sorry, but with all due respect to County Finance Director Brian Hessenthaler (he crunched out the final numbers), I’d be a little suspicious about what he came up with given the lack of feedback and input from the other departments.

And finally, we have this story telling us that Election Day voting in Bucks County went smoothly for the most part…

Bucks County on Wednesday trumpeted the results of its inaugural survey analyzing Election Day, but the Democratic commissioner and voting advocates said the process could run more smoothly.

Of the 304 judges of election, 213 returned surveys mailed to them after the Nov. 4 presidential election.

“We had anecdotal evidence that the election went well, but we thought this would be a good way of finding out for sure,” said Planning Director Lynn Bush, who also oversees the elections process.

Another basically positive development, I’ll grant you. However…

Madeline Rawley of the Coalition for Voting Integrity said the county should be careful not to gloss over individual voters’ experiences at the polls.

“There were places where people didn’t vote. They couldn’t vote, they had to leave,” she said, adding later: “I think we very strongly need a good look into this because I’m sure you want to improve the process.”

Commissioner Charley Martin, who was chairman of the board of elections last year, said accommodating every possible glitch during the high turnout presidential elections would not be cost-effective considering low turnout in off years.

“Many, many of these problems will not be the case in 2009,” he said.

I have a feeling Martin is right, unfortunately, though it would be nice to find out more details concerning these “glitches,” wouldn’t it?

And also in the “lack of disclosure” category under Cawley and Martin (not enough time to review documents on hired or fired workers or those who received raises, not enough coordination or review when compiling the budget numbers), we also have this concerning the voting results (going out of my way not to discuss Creekside here, since it’s the subject of at least one post by itself)…

Commissioner Diane Marseglia said she did not see the documents until Wednesday before the 10 a.m. commissioners meeting, which was around the same time Elections Director Deena Dean said she also got a first look at the documents.

Marseglia, the only Democrat on the three-member board, made an unsuccessful pitch to her Republican colleagues to re-write the release.

She objected to the focus solely on questions that yielded positive answers 94 percent of the time or more.

Although she could not point to any specific inaccuracies, she said it was “missing things to make it accurate” and later issued her own written statement.

“We really shouldn’t be press releasing things that public information has had a chance to look at that the commissioners have not,” she said at the meeting.

“That happens all the time,” Martin said.

Yes, it does, doesn’t it, Charley? And it will continue as long as you, Cawley and David Sanko run Bucks like your little playpen, won’t it?

Update 2/8/09: An “Office of Public Information,” huh (here)? Sounds like another Repug “triumph” in the “village” of Bucks County politics (a la “The Prisoner”: “Questions are a burden to others, and answers are a burden to oneself,” as they say – kudos to Diane for calling this what it is).

Update 2/9/09: Kudos again to Diane for continuing to fight the good fight (here).

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