Commissioners scrutinize travel expenses, use of county property
by Jennifer Cohron
Jun 05, 2014 | 1725 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of the Walker County Commission passed motions on Wednesday that changed how groups get permission to use county property, how items are added to the agenda and how travel expenses are approved.

Commissioners also established a new policy clarifying the role of County Administrator II Cheryl Ganey.

District 4 representative Steven Aderholt proposed the items, several of which led to heated discussions and split votes.

Aderholt first asked for the repeal of a resolution that has traditionally given the commission chairman the authority to grant requests of individuals or groups who wish to use county property, particularly the old airport.

Those requests will now be voted on by the full commission.

“The old resolution took our authority under state code and placed it all upon the shoulders of the chairman. I think there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors and having this entire body consider what is correct and proper use of the county’s property,” Aderholt said.

District 2 representative Dan Wright expressed doubts about the plan. “At some point in time, we’ve got to respect our chairman enough and give him the authority to look at these things. ... There is a lot of stuff that us as commissioners out on the road don’t have time to come down here and talk about every day,” Wright said.

District 1 representative Keith Davis replied that there has been at least one instance during the previous administration in which a group was allowed to use county property without possessing the proper insurance.

“I think more things need to be voted on by the body and run through commission meetings just for checks and balances and to make sure that things don’t fall through the cracks,” Davis said.

The motion to repeal the old resolution passed unanimously.

Next, Aderholt proposed a policy that allows two commissioners to have an item added to the official agenda by making a written request to the chairman and chief administrator.

If the item does not appear on the agenda, the policy calls for it to be added through a technical correction rather than through a unanimous vote of the commission, which is currently required.

Aderholt noted that only two commissioners can discuss a matter privately without being in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act.

“It creates less of a legal loophole to jump through whereby we can discuss things transparently and openly in public,” Aderholt said.

Aderholt also clarified that Commission Chairman Billy Luster retains his current authority to set the agenda after Wright voiced concerns that the chairman’s power was being limited.

The motion to approve the policy for adding items to the agenda also passed unanimously.

Tempers flared after Aderholt introduced another new policy that calls for Ganey to be recognized as the chief administrator of Walker County.

The County Administrator II position was created by the commission, accepted by the Walker County Civil Service Board and filled by Ganey six months ago.

Wright described the new policy as a demotion of county administrator Jill Farris.

“Jill has 20 years of experience and is very loyal to this county. I can’t see demoting and promoting by rewording the way it’s done,” Wright said.

Aderholt replied that no duties or responsibilities are being taken from Farris and assigned to Ganey.

“There is no preferential treatment here other than to say I think there is a lack of understanding of Miss Ganey’s role as administrator II...There are certain rights and responsibilities that go along with this job, and she has to have access to certain information in a timely matter. Some department heads don’t realize that she has the authority to handle that information, and that is a hindrance to the process of county government,” Aderholt said.

Wright’s motion to table the policy died for lack of a second.

The next motion to accept the policy passed 3-1, with Wright as the dissenting vote.

The dialouge between commissioners became even more heated and digressed several times over a resolution introduced by Aderholt that requires commission approval for all travel to conferences or training by commissioners, engineers, administrators and staff.

Currently, the county gives annual approval to a calendar of events set by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama and budgets $65,000 for travel expenses.

The only travel events that will receive automatic authorization are those required by law and that carry a criminal penalty for failure to attend, such as ethics training, as well as continuing education required to maintain one’s professional license.

The resolution also requires the person who travels for the benefit of the county to give a one-page synopsis of the event attended at the next commission meeting.

Davis suggested that commissioners should be prioritizing the various conferences and training opportunities available to them.

“I don’t see anything that in my opinion is wrong with having travel authorized by the body of the commission. I think that is transparency, and that is managing taxpayer dollars wisely,” Davis said.

Wright asserted that the commission may approve travel covered by the General Fund, but he will continue to use his district funds to pay for other certification classes and training sessions for himself and employees under his direction.

The resolution regarding travel approval passed 3-1 with Wright as the dissenting vote.