The Schuylkill County Commissioners love to preach to the public about their transparency. However, they’re only about as transparent as a brick wall.
That “transparency” was on full display at Wednesday’s regular board meeting as it related to another mystery budget adjustment listed on the public meeting Agenda.
As we noted in our meeting preview, almost no detail was provided on a $38,190 budget adjustment for the Public Works department. See how it’s listed on the Agenda here (we highlighted it):
Well, it seems that either people in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting are faithful Canary readers or they had strikingly similar questions about it.
But getting that information in a timely, useful manner proved to be fruitless.
This is how it went down at Wednesday’s meeting …
Two people asked about the budget adjustment during the Public Comment portion of the meeting. The first was a woman by the name of Melinda Deibert, of North Manheim Township.
“What is that for,” she asked the Commissioners.
She got no answer.
Next to ask was Greg Woll, who’s actually launching a Libertarian Party bid for a Commissioners seat in November.
“My only question is … ‘What is that Public Works money for? We didn’t get an answer’,” he said.
Now, rather than giving a straight answer to a very simple question, the Commissioners stayed on brand with their version of transparency.
“Mr. Buber will bring it up,” Commissioner Gary Hess said.
Commissioners Once Again Missing the Point
How hard would it have been to just answer either of those two people right when they asked? Not that hard, really.
But by waiting to disclose that information, the Commissioners essentially shut down any public debate or input into the budget adjustment. That’s the equivalent of them sticking their fingers in their ears for the Public Comment portion of meetings.
You can’t question what you don’t know. And apparently, you, the public didn’t need to know why they were making this budget adjustment until they had already approved it.
The Commissioners knew how the money was being used and they clearly had already made up their minds on the subject. Next to nothing is getting on a Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting Agenda if a majority vote isn’t a lock before they even enter the room.
So, after the Public Comment period of the meeting was closed, we finally learned why the County needed to make this budget adjustment to the Public Works department.
As Hess promised in his comment to Woll, County Finance Director Paul Buber said the budget adjustment was to replace “over 60 thermostats” at the Courthouse.
Buber explained the thermostat replacements are “so that energy consumption can be more effectively monitored and managed for energy consumption purposes.”
After Buber gave his summary of the budget adjustment, Commissioner Barron Hetherington called on County Controller Sharyn Yackenchick, “Sharyn, there’s a question about bidding … is that a COSTARS?”
COSTARS, as a quick aside, is a cooperative purchasing program for government entities in Pennsylvania. Contractors register with the state program and once approved, can bid on government jobs.
Yackenchick asked Hetherington’s question, “For the thermostats?”
Hetherington said, “Yeah.”
Now, there was no question about the bidding process – or even if there was one -related to the thermostats because no one in the room except for the County officials there knew what the budget adjustment meant.
It wasn’t until a minute prior that we all learned that, when it was too late to question it for fear of getting thrown out of the meeting.
Remember the “Mr. Buber will bring it up” response Woll got?
To that end, Yackenchick answered Hetherington’s question that no one else asked about bidding on that job – for that matter we don’t even know who will do that job, it wasn’t disclosed, of course.
She said to Hetherington, “I’m not sure.”
Hetherington then attempted to show his brand of transparency by running through the other budget adjustments the Commissioners would soon approve by providing the bare minimum on details about each.
Those Are Some Expensive Thermostats
Again, keeping on the Courthouse’s brand of “transparency” even in its attempt to give information about the $38,190 budget adjustment, no one could be bothered enough to say exactly how many thermostats would be replaced.
All we know is that “more than 60” thermostats will be replaced. So, is that 61? Maybe 65? Heck, it could be 4,000 thermostats, right? That’s more than 60.
Whatever the number is, that’s quite a bit of money to spend per thermostat. Doing the math on that, at 60 thermostats, the cost to replace each would be $636.50. If the number is 65 thermostats, it works out to $587.54. If it’s 69 thermostats, the price comes to $553.48 per replacement.
We’re not contractors, by any stretch, but have priced thermostats recently. And even at today’s prices for thermostats and labor, that’s still a lot of money per thermostat. And for what purpose? To monitor energy consumption?
The Courthouse sure is putting a lot of stock in the value of a thermostat putting a big dent in its energy bill.
Transparency On Brand
Wednesday’s episode was only the latest example of the Commissioners brand of transparency. Sure, the $38,190 may be a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the size of the County’s annual spending – which they fought to keep secret for as long as they could last year, remember – but budget adjustments like this happen week after week at the Courthouse.
And like Wednesday’s example, the same lack of transparency and availability to provide public input is afforded each and every one of them.
Maybe this latest meeting shed a little more light on the issue and the Commissioners will change their way and start providing more information about these sorts of budget adjustments in the future, but don’t bet on it.
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