Monday night marked the final meeting of the current Washington County Commission. Tomorrow morning, the commissioners who were elected during the May primaries and August general elections will be sworn into office.
Like any entertaining act, the current commission left with a final set that included renditions of some of its more memorable numbers.
There was the commissioner who made a joke about suicide during a discussion of suicide prevention awareness month.
There was the commissioner who called for a vote during a public hearing, before all the citizens who had come to speak in favor of a zoning change had spoken, and before any of the citizens who had come to speak in opposition had their say.
There was the commissioner who asked a question that had already been answered twice, then zoned out as the answer was being given the third time, talking with another commissioner instead of listening.
There was the commissioner who has in the past been given to grandstanding, taking time to challenge the next commission to do as well as this commission has done, then, after the meeting, loudly proclaiming on the front walkway of the George Jaynes Justice Center that the new county commission had been, “bought,” and that, “the Al Capone days are back.”
I have no desire to call these commissioners by name in this space, because they will be former commissioners tomorrow. They have done all the service they can do for the county in the role of commissioner, and we are grateful.
The main thing for which I am grateful, however, is the fact that most of the next class of commissioners was in attendance in the gallery at Monday night’s meeting, and that this attendance is nothing new. Several of the commissioners who will place their hands on the Bible tomorrow morning will do so having attended most of this year’s commission meetings. They are aware of the issues they will face in their first year.
These new commissioners have seen the cautionary tale the current commission has offered. They have seen commissioners cast votes without knowing what they were voting on. They have seen meetings turn contentious over imagined slights. And they have seen an at-times-alarming ignorance of procedure.
But if these new commissioners were paying close attention, they also saw some shining examples of good government. They saw the commission act swiftly in responding to the recent tornado in Gray. They saw a government that made cuts without raising the property tax rate in a time of flat revenues, using debt refinancing (though this approach is about tapped out). They saw the actions of a chairman who had the ideal temperament to handle a feisty group, earning respect from all sides while never losing control of a meeting.
The new commission will face serious and sometimes politically charged issues. And it will have the opportunity to do so early and often.
The matter of eliminating benefits for commissioners is likely to be brought up quickly, as is the matter of cutting the size of the commission. A new budget committee is scheduled to be named this week, and it must set to work to insure the county citizens receive the services necessary, but delivered in a more efficient way than ever before. The county must be governed more efficiently, and this new commission will be challenged to do so from day one.
As a regular attendee of commission meetings, and as a citizen of Washington County, I am excited. Time will tell if my optimism for this new commission is warranted, but I believe that the voters of this county have elected a slate of commissioners who have the opportunity and the wherewithal to be far more productive, albeit less entertaining, than their predecessors.