sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Friday, August 06, 2004

Sometimes it's just not that funny.....or, if the inmates only knew they cared

The Guilford County Commissioners meeting would have been interesting had things not gotten so out of control.

There was interesting debate on agenda items, but the back-and-forth bickering that's sometimes amusing went on a little too long. By the end of the evening, everyone was tired and ready to go home. Except for the four female commissioners, no one, I mean no one, was listening to the speaker representing county Workforce Development.

An inside source told me to look for commissioner Skip Alston to be in rare form. He was, going head-to-head with Sheriff B.J. Barnes over an $18,000 appropriation from the Inmate Welfare Fund, $14,000 of which was for an ID card security system, $1,000 for a copier and $2,800 for public seating.

Alston just didn't see where any of this contributed to the welfare of inmates in Guilford County jails, which, he noted several times, he's visited.

"I think it's a stretch," Alston said. "There may some sheriff's puppets on the board, but I'm not one of them."

Barnes' rationale was the security system is for the inmates' safety, the copier will help process paperwork that will get them out of jail sooner, and the seating was for visiting loved ones, who provide a psychological boost.
At any rate, Barnes said, it's all legal.

"This all fits the legal criteria to allow for this money to be spent," Barnes said.

Commissioner Billy Yow backed Barnes.

"This is clearly a legitimate request," Yow said.

Alston has the right to speak his piece and vote against it. But then he made a power grab by making a motion to deny the funding. The usual protocol for consent agenda items is to make a motion passing the item. If it fails, it fails.

But he made a motion to deny funding. Mind you, throughout the discussion the normal wandering around was going on. Commissioners Mike Barber and Mary Rakestraw disappeared for a while, and Barber was still absent when the vote on alston's motion took place.

It passed 5-3, but commissioner Linda Shaw was obviously confused about the motion and requested her vote be changed. Confusion reigned as everyone tried to figure out how to change Shaw's vote. Confusing matters further were alternate motions, one by commissioner Jeff Thigpen proposing an alternate funding source.

Finally, everyone figured out Shaw, by voting for alston's motion, could bring the matter up again. She did so, and by this time either Barber or Rakestraw (I'll check the tape tomorrow) returned and help pass the motion 5-4 to appropriate the funds.

The motion to put a $47 million bond on the November ballot for expansion and infrastructure improvements at GTCC passed unanimously. But the $20 million park fund caused trouble. Hoggard spoke in favor of the bond, referring specifically to Aycock Middle School.

Then, all of a sudden, Yow and Alston were on the same side. Both complained that the proposal, half of which was dedicated to "preservation of open space," was too vague.

"We've got several different plans, but it doesn't say how much money is going into each one," Yow said.

"We don't know what this bond package is going to buy," Alston said. I don't want to buy a pig in a poke."

Thigpen then vociferously defended the bond.

"The idea that citizens don't want their money used for parks is wrong," Thigpen said. "We're losing more and more open space in this county."

Commissioners Carolyn Coleman and Bruce Davis also complained about the bond's specificity. But in the end, Yow and Alston were the lone holdouts on a 7-2 vote. Mind you, the voters will make the ultimate decision, and if it passes, the commissioners will have the ultimate say in how it's spent.

It got uglier after that. The school system had the audacity to ask for $68,000 for a new school resource offer, and the Jamestown Public Library didn't do something right to get $20,000. People were testy about requests for more money a month after a budget was passed.

Not to mention the fact that there was very little trust as to what would be done with the money.


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