‘Micromanagement’ point of conflict between Cleburne commissioners, staff
by Laura Camper
Sep 04, 2013 | 3658 views |  0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Cleburne County Commission work session Tuesday about the county’s budget brought on some table-banging, but the issue didn’t seem to be the budget so much as a power struggle that has been simmering between some of the members.

Since taking office, commissioners Laura Cobb and Emmett Owen have successfully proposed taking the finance officer out from under the supervision of the county administrator and putting her under the supervision of the commission directly and have assigned commission members to oversee different county departments.

Probate Judge Ryan Robertson, a full-time county employee who acts as chair of the commission, fought both changes, saying the commissioners were overstepping their authority.

Tuesday’s discussion turned angry as commissioners Cobb and Owen asked about a proposal in the budget to change the qualifications for the county finance officer.

Robertson changed the subject, saying he knew some residents who thought that he and the county administrator were not managing the county as well as they should.

“But yet you still have a great audit, and we have for the past 12 years,” Robertson said, punctuating his statement by slapping the table where the commissioners were gathered.

County Administrator Steve Swafford had informed the commissioners earlier in the meeting that the fiscal year 2012 audit found no problems.

Owen responded by slapping the table himself and saying, “We’re talking about the budget.”

But Robertson said they were not discussing the budget — and slapped the table again.

Commissioner Laura Cobb, seeming to confirm Robertson’s statement that the topic of discussion was no longer the budget, moved on to a complaint. Cobb said she was concerned the commissioners were not notified the day the county human resource officer Lisa Kemmerlin had resigned.

Kemmerlin resigned her position last week.

Cobb said she asked Swafford about the resignation after she heard from constituents about it. He said he had intended to notify the commissioners at the meeting, Cobb said.

“You could’ve sent us an email, Steve,” Cobb said to Swafford. “As a commissioner, I felt like I should have been notified along with these three other gentlemen.”

Robertson said that the county had processes in place to manage when people left their positions for whatever reason.

“I feel like you’re wanting to micromanage every department,” Robertson said. “You’re part-time and you’re the legislative part. We’re here on a daily basis and we have to keep the processes going.”

Swafford broke in and said that in the future he would notify the commissioners by email the day a department head resigns.

With that, the argument was over and the discussion turned back to the budget. Both Robertson and Owen later apologized for their outbursts.

The proposed budget projects $7.7 million in expenditures, about $100,000 more than the current budget. The proposed budget relies on dipping into reserves for about $800,000 to balance. The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the budget at their next meeting, on Sept. 15.

In other business, the commission:

— Decided to keep a 2.5 percent raise for all county employees in the budget, although Cobb and Owen said they didn’t support it because of the poor economy. Commissioner Bobby Brooks also asked if there were a way to exclude the commissioners from the raise. But Swafford said that state law ties employee and commissioner raises together.

— Decided to make a part-time revenue assessment clerk a full-time employee and to increase the pay grade of the engineer in training in an effort to keep the employee currently in that position.

— Agreed to remove a requirement that the county finance officer have a four-year college degree and reclassify the pay grade down one level.

— Gave its blessing to creating a new Environmental Services Department with proceeds from a grant from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. The new department will handle cleanup of illegal dumps in the county and the municipalities within the county, Swafford said.

— Heard from a representative of the Cleburne County Schools system that the district is in need of two automatic external defibrillators. The machines cost about $2,250 each and the school system would like one for Ranburne Elementary School and the Cleburne County High School fieldhouse.

— Heard from Swafford that the county law enforcement agencies are hoping to go to a digital radio system and need the county to be the bidding agent for a new system.

— Received a letter from a group of area churches that are circulating petitions to have prayer reinstated in the schools. The churches asked for the commissioners’ support.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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