Monday, September 15, 2008

Study Commission Reluctantly Revises Disputed Mailer

The members of the Government Study Commission (GSC) met and voted unanimously to make revisions to their disputed postcard mailer, Monday morning.

Despite the formal unanimity, however, many of the nine present members made clear their frustration with the Commissioners' recent revocation of funding.

At issue was language in the mailer that the three dissenting members of the GSC argued - and the Commissioners agreed - went beyond the Commission's ordained task of educating the public about the Charter to instead advocating for it.

Commission member John Smucker said at the beginning of Monday's two hour meeting, "I believe that as an independently-elected Commission, we are not necessarily bound by the action of the Board of County Commissioners... I believe that what we came up with is educational."

But he went on to say, "reasonable minds can differ" and "In the spirit of community compromise... I am not opposed to making some tweaks."

Member Sam Mecum agreed that the GSC is charged with "recommending" the Charter asked, "How can you recommend something without explaining why you think it's better or greater or increased or different?"

"So if I'm a citizen and I get a mailing that simply says, 'the Commissioners were increased from three to five,' I think rhetorically and logically, I would immediately ask myself, 'why?'" added GSC member Jim Miller.

"So if we can't explain why, how are we educating?" Miller asked.

Most of the comparative adjectives like "better" and "enhanced" were removed from the postcard, Monday, in the Commission's laborious wording revision.

For example, instead of stating that the charter provides "Greater Citizen Access & Involvement," the postcard now states merely that the Charter "addresses... Citizen Access & Involvement."

Instead of stating that the charter provides "Better Money Management," the new mailer states that the charter "addresses Money Management."

Instead of stating that the charter "Permits better purchasing methods to save taxpayer dollars," the mailer now reads, "Permits different purchasing methods to save taxpayer dollars."

The GSC also voted to indicate which bullet points on their mailer "can only be achieved by a Home Rule Charter," including increasing the number of Commissioners to five, mandating a non-partisan Board of Elections, allowing citizen controls over excessive tax increases, reducing the costs of government by consolidation of row offices and reductions in elected officials' salaries, and other points.

The GSC decided to keep the County Logo on its postcard.

It was noted that the Commission has previously used the County Logo on its letterhead and in its reports and Chief Clerk for the County Commissioners, Andrea McCue, said that these uses had previously been approved by the County Commissioners.

"The County Logo belongs to the citizens and we are a citizen's commission," said Smucker.

The consensus was that the use of the logo is permitted as long as the postcard is not an advocacy piece.

Mecum explained, "We believe that the County is obligated to fund the mailer with these changes."

Approximately $43,000 total will be spent on production and distribution of the postcard mailer to every household in the county.

"We intend to authorize the printing of the mailer today," said Smucker.

He noted that Commissioners Stuckey and Martin are opponents of the Charter and opined that it was inappropriate for them to pull the funding.

The Commissioners could not immediately be reached for comment as they were attending an economic summit. McCue said that the issue will be on their agenda for discussion this week.

Asked by NewsLanc as to whether his concerns had been allayed, GSC member Jim Huber, a signatory to last week's complaint to the Commissioners, said, "Some good changes have been made, but I'll have to look at it more closely."

The other dissenting members, Jim Bednar, and Greg Sahd were not present at Monday's meeting and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Secretary for the Government Study Commission, Sharon Sherban, noted that NewsLanc was the first to alert the GSC to the Commissioners' promise of investigation into the mailer last Wednesday.