I’m happy the taser issue in Warren County government seems to be at an end, and I’m pleased with the outcome.
Originally, I was asked to look into jail expenditures by someone who felt some purchases were being made using the $12.5 million the county OK'd to borrow in 2018. That issue was a cellphone contract. Cells turned out to be a non-issue, but I did notice something. Four words caught my eye: taser purchase of $18,575.
I sit in on countless hours of city and county government meetings each month. As you can imagine, some of those can get boring. When it gets too tedious, I have to force myself to keep focused. I lose the battle occasionally. However, I always snap back to reality.
As I’m sitting at my desk looking at those four words, I know for a fact it did not come through any committee for approval. Never happened. Just to make sure I’m correct, I sent an email to Finance director Justin Cotten asking him which committee approved that purchase. His reply didn’t shock me, because it didn’t come through committee.
Cotten and I went back and forth via email a few times. I’m sure he wasn’t being intentionally evasive, but I wasn’t getting the entire background information on this purchase. I was relentless, and I wasn’t going away. One of my last emails included the statement, “I don’t understand this, and someone needs to explain it clearly. Where did the funds come from?”
When I didn’t get a prompt reply, I called Commissioner Steven Helton for comment. He knew nothing about a taser purchase. Not shocking, given no committee approval.
Eventually, county attorney Robert Bratcher handed me a written correspondence. It outlined his legal opinion that County Executive Jimmy Haley had the authority to make the purchase and why bids were not required.
Honestly, I wasn’t entirely happy with Bratcher’s determination. It meant that purchases using taxpayer dollars can be made in secret under the right conditions. What happened to the transparency in government?
I wrote my article about the purchase the same as I would if it had come through committee. That story brought a swift, unhappy response from some commissioners.
One commissioner, and I can’t figure out which, contacted former state Rep. Charles Curtiss. He determined the county approved borrowing $12.5 million, but it still needed to pass an appropriations resolution outlining how the money should be spent. Until then, the money shouldn’t be spent and the taser purchase was not proper.
I was happy with Curtiss’ determination. It meant that purchases using taxpayer dollars cannot be made in secret under any condition. Transparency in government.
Having one person making decisions in government will never turn out very well, and it’s not good teamwork.
Standard reporter Lisa Hobbs can be reached at 473-2191.