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Let the Sun Shine In!

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Recent articles in the Charlotte Observer and in other newspapers around the state are asking the question of how much does the public need to know. Or should they be allowed to know. This is an area that I believe could be vital in saving the taxpayers of our county countless thousands of dollars.

First, allow me to take two quotes from a recent Charlotte Observer article to help define the problem: “Because of a badly conceived policy and poorly worded statute and amendments adopted more than three decades ago, some information that ought to be public is not. State personnel law restricts information about government employees. By law the public is entitled only to know when someone was hired, what that person’s current job is, what their pay is, when they last got a pay hike or cut and when their most recent change in job status was.” “State law has other problems, too. It shields hiring and promotion records from public scrutiny – enabling patronage, nepotism and cronyism to flourish.”

Having read that, it becomes apparent that many things about our government employees are kept quiet. When we move to keep things quiet it costs us money. People have to be counted on to keep things under wraps and loyalty costs money. The recent flap at DSS and the case of Officer Jackson at CMPD are but two cases. These two cases rose to a point of being exposed by our local newspaper. Both have elements of being hushed up or dampened down in the press releases. How many cases have not been exposed?

We have seen cases in Mecklenburg County where supervisors have been suspended, moved, retired or fired for use of public computers for access to pornography or for disseminating inappropriate material. We have had cases of elected officials using taxpayer resources to advance their elect ability or to campaign. How many cases go unreported or unnoticed because they do not rise to a reportable level?

Frequently, bonuses are given, prizes are awarded and/or perks are given to reward an employee. Because we do not show these items as pay they are not reported to the public and are kept under wraps because of the privacy acts passed into State law. Many times all of these issues and many more are quietly handled in house and swept under the rug. How often does this happen and how much does it cost us?

 Patronage! How many times have we been later made aware of a situation where a relative or friend has been hired as a personal favor to an official? Was not one of Chief Monroe’s relatives hired by the City? Was not Mayor Anthony Fox’s wife given a position? Was not former City Council member Malachi Green’s wife hired by the County and eventually promoted to head her department? Some might even say that the appointment of Parks Helms to the ABC Board falls into the same category. These hiring’s frequently go undetected because in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends have different last names. These jobs cost us money, primarily because the person hired is unqualified or under qualified. These persons are often paid at a higher rate than normal. 

 Allow me to pose a few hypothetical questions. Given the fact that we do not publish all previous years of pay increases, just the current year. Given the fact that we do not publish the rewarding of perks and bonuses. Given the fact that we do not publish line item spending by the County. Is it possible to promote an employee in return for certain favors, undetected? Is it possible for a supervisor to have an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate and then promote that subordinate, undetected? Could department heads give bonuses to employees that are ‘loyal’, undetected? Could an employee be granted use of an automobile because they have kept quiet, undetected? Could a subordinate be rewarded with new office furniture because a compensation freeze makes a pay raise impossible, undetected?

I can think of a hundred more possible hypothetical situations that I could pose but I believe that the point has been made. Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte governments need to have a healthy dose of sunshine! The law allows it under the provision that  “the agencies reputation is at stake”. I believe if it doesn’t pass the smell test then the reputation of an agency, a department and even the entire government is at stake. I believe that the Government of Mecklenburg County should publish, monthly, all line item spending. I believe that the same government should make available all information regarding bonuses, perks and rewards of all employees as a part of the entire compensation package of each employee.

I believe that we should LET THE SUN SHINE IN!

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