The Warren County Commission voted Monday night to weaken the oversight county department directors have when making a purchase. Directors can now spend up to $25,000 of taxpayer dollars without going through a county committee, an amount that's terribly large.
When it comes to oversight and government, I believe in as much as possible. That's because I've found there's generally one recurring theme when it comes to government, no matter the level or the officials who are in office.
That constant theme is government, by and large, prefers to operate as secretly as possible with minimal interference.
One refreshing change was the Warren County School Board when it made the decision to televise the interviews for our Director of Schools candidates. That openness was well received as I heard many, many people say they enjoyed watching the interviews and learning about the candidates.
That rare exception aside, you need a crowbar to pry information out of most public officials. The Tennessee Comptroller's Office is in place in hopes of ensuring government accountability. Just this month, the Comptroller's Office has concluded five investigations:
• A hospital employee at Maury Regional Medical Center is said to have stolen at least $798,265 from the facility by taking supplies and selling them online.
• An employee at Hiwassee College was said to be inappropriately reimbursed for lodging expenses which did not occur and more than $1 million in funding from donors was not properly released.
• A PTO president at Inglewood Elementary is said to have misappropriated some $5,700.
• A treasurer of a school organization at Creswell Middle Prep is charged with misappropriating $2,600.
• The mayor of Henning is said to have used credit cards associated with the town to buy at least $2,237 worth of items at Walmart.
These five cases are just in October. You can continue to search for months and months to find more cases where funds haven't been used for their designed purpose.
My point is when it comes to money, the best policy is heavy oversight. By raising the purchasing limit to $25,000, county department directors still must have their purchases go through the county Finance Department where I'm sure each purchased will be scrutinized.
But, this also allows up to $25,000 to avoid the scrutiny of officials on our Warren County Commission. I think this is a poor idea.
Most folks don't get to view government through the same lens that I do. Speaking in general terms, I think it's fair to say government officials prefer operating in secrecy as opposed to operating in the open. If you don't believe me, just watch the reaction when a Standard reporter walks in the room.
Removing any layer of oversight is not wise in my opinion.
Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.