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Pearce’s bill would increase county costs, eliminate accountability

Sen. Russell Pearce has introduced a bill that would make elected county offices totally dysfunctional and far more expensive.

S1017, if passed by the Legislature and signed into law, would give all elected county officers “full authority and discretion to choose the appropriate means to accomplish the statutory duties” of their offices, including hiring, control of personnel and salary, and entering into agreements or contracts. The result would be the elimination of budgetary control, which would lead to redundant expenses, counterproductive activities, lack of transparency and liability without accountability.

Right now, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors approves the budgeting process, including new initiatives and expenses. We have oversight to make sure county spending stays out of the red. Mohave County has one Human Resources Department that keeps an eye on all merit and exempt personnel for all of our departments.

When I first came into office in 2001, this county was in debt. The board hired County Manager Ron Walker and we – staff, department heads and elected officials – worked together, tightened our belts, developed long-term planning and, within a couple of years, paid off those debts. We also began the long process of rebuilding the county’s infrastructure, all the while passing balanced budgets every year.

We have come a long way during both good and bad economies. I would hate to see Pearce’s bill send this county, among others, into fiscal crisis.

Just as our supervisors are responsible for levying taxes and fees, we are also accountable for how those public dollars are spent. We look at the estimated and actual costs of the offices of the Assessor, Treasurer, Sheriff, County Attorney, Recorder and School Superintendent, and work to budget their needs.

Our budgeting process helps us keep offices from wasting tax dollars on redundant expenses. But Pearce’s bill would allow each elected office to have its own human resources personnel, manage its own procurement processes and devise its travel and expense budget without oversight.

I believe good stewardship means administrative functions should not be duplicated, and a singular oversight leads to a logical, transparent system of checks and balances.

I recently shared my critique of S1017 with Rep. Nancy McLain. I told her that I was vehemently opposed to the bill and that I believe boards of supervisors actually need more oversight over the other elected county officers’ actions to enhance our checks and balances and help keep all of us going in the same fiscal and ethical direction.

I wonder if Pearce believes each elected office should also purchase its own liability insurance. I don’t believe Arizona Counties Insurance Pool (ACIP) should continue to group-cover departments that have no oversight or are not accountable to a single county authority.

If the senator’s bill is enacted into law, the state should pick up the independent elected offices’ costs of lawsuits for sexual harassment, unfair labor practices, malfeasance, etc.

As a fiscal conservative, I just cannot understand why Pearce would be pushing a bill that would create duplicate expenses. And this is the second year he has introduced this bill.

How long would tax dollars last if each elected official could demand a lump sum of public money from a board of supervisors without showing a budget plan?

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors, other elected county officials, department heads and staff have worked hard to deliver mandated services to residents while keeping expenses low and the overall budget balanced. The economy is struggling and revenues are tight. But we are still paying our bills, keeping out of debt and improving our infrastructure. The hiring freeze has led to a smaller county workforce with high productivity.

Pearce’s bill would divide and destroy the fabric of all county governments as well as each board’s responsibility and accountability to the public for management oversight. It would destroy Mohave County’s system of checks and balances, wipe out accountability and transparency and cause expenses to go through the roof with duplication of efforts within every department.

- Tom Sockwell is a member of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors representing District 2.

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