Transparency, Technically Speaking
JIPSD votes down motion to publish monthly expenditure reports, opts for quarterly reports
By Charlie Morrison
Confidence in government, particularly local municipal governments like the James Island Public Service District (JIPSD), is built out of transparency. In that vein, the JIPSD Commission voted, last Monday, to begin offering expenditure reports on its website on a quarterly basis. And while the 5-2 vote set improves transparency with respect to the publicly-funded organization, the body’s deliberated decision not to provide their financials on a quarterly instead of monthly basis, as is the standard throughout the county, raised more than a few pairs of eyebrows at their last meeting, held last Monday evening.
The issue was first vetted by the Commission’s Administrative Committee, where the three-person body of Inez Brown-Crouch, Donald Hollingsworth and June Waring voted it on the regular Commission agenda, with Hollingsworth dissenting.
It was no surprise when, at Monday’s meeting,
Hollingsworth emerged as the strongest opponent of the new policy to provide updated, monthly expense reports on the body’s activities.
Hollingsworth, whose more than twenty years on the Commission grant him a certain gravitas with the body, argued that producing the body’s financials on a monthly basis would already overburden JIPSD staffers.
“I’ll be the first to tell you that I do not agree with doing this. Our staff has enough work and I feel that we have enough transparency. This expenditure,” he said.
“I think it would create a hardship on staff, trying to bring us the figures of everything we do every day … every penny, every dime, and I’ll tell y’all right now I’ll vote against it. I don’t think we need to do it.”
Commissioner Eugene Platt another of the body’s senior members disagreed. “This is one of the rare instances where I would disagree (with Hollingsworth), especially with the assertion that you can have too much transparency … I would submit that you cannot have too much transparency,” said Platt.
Brown-Crouch, the Chair of the Administrative Committee, disagreed with her longtime colleague, noting that the organization’s Deputy Manager and CFO, Susan Gladden, told the body at the February 5 meeting that the costs, both in time and labor would be negligible.
“Susan mentioned that having the report was really not an expense on the staff, or cause extra work. It is something to help show what is happening … It’s very, very visible, and since is not to be a burden or cost anything, why not … and so I’m for it,”
All the same, Commission Chair David Engelman, who was also present for the meeting, wasn’t convinced.
“I couldn’t get the budget under control even if I considered the items in question to be ludicrous,” commented Engelman in reference to his time working on the board of the Charleston County School Board, with whom he’d previous experience working with publicizing financials.
“If (District Manager Robert Wise) says it can be done within the existing staff I’m fine with it, but I don’t know that it will give you the transparency that you think it will.”
Commissioner Rod Welch disagreed with Engelman, though in the end their votes to provide only quarterly access to the organization’s expense reports did not.
“Donnie, in this case, it really is not a burden,” said Welch.
In an effort to find compromise, Welch put forward a motion that the body amend the resolution to offer the reports quarterly as opposed to every month.
“If we did this once a quarter, which I think is reasonable probably only talking about a couple hours a year for people to do it, would that make it more acceptable?”
“No, not to me … I’m sorry,” said a determined Hollingsworth.
Seemingly equally determined was Commissioner June Waring, who questioned the wisdom of not offering the reports each month.
“I think it’s just another way the average Joe Blow public person who doesn’t keep up with the minutes who doesn’t come, can at least look and see what their money is being spent on,” said Waring.
“I think they deserve to have something like that and I think it’s a great idea, I’m sorry I didn’t think of it first,” commented Waring.
“I would like to see it done on a monthly basis. According to Ms. Gladden, won’t take too much time, and won’t cost us one penny, to do this,” said the sponsor of the resolution, Commissioner Carter McMillan. “This is something that others are doing.
“I think we could be looked at in some way as pioneers when it comes to Public Service Districts doing this, and I’d like to see us lead in doing it. I think it’s something important for us to do.”
In the end, despite Commission Chair Engelman’s assertion that he’d vote for a monthly report should staff say the costs would be marginal, despite Platt’s principled stance on transparency, despite the testimony of the organization’s CFO that the costs of offering monthly financials would be negligible, only Commission Vice-Chairman Carter McMillan, who sponsored the resolution to offer the financials on a monthly basis, along with Brown-Crouch voted stood firm on principle in voting against the resolution they viewed as watered down. Along with Hollingsworth, theirs were the only two principled votes to be cast on Monday evening.
The next meeting of the JIPSD will be held next Monday, March 11 at their headquarters at 1739 Signal Point Rd. You can reach them by phone at 795-9060 or find them on the web at http://www.jipsd.org
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