Friday, November 03, 2006

Lehigh County Comm'r Grammes is Kryptonite to SuperClerk Proposal

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOn Tuesday, I told you about Lehigh County's proposal to combine three elected row officers into a Superclerk. Proponents claim it will save money and modernize county government. In reality, it will cost money and create inefficiencies.

This Superclerk brainfart is not the result of some feasibility study or report from efficiency experts. It's just politics. Andy Roman, like Cassius, has that lean and hungry look.

Marc Grammes is a Lehigh County Commissioner who has consistently opposed this consolidation. He has given me permission to share his riveting inside story about Lehigh County government. It's Kryptonite to Superclerk!

I write to you tonight concerning the ballot question in Lehigh County pertaining to the consolidation of the row offices of Recorder of Deeds, Clerk of Courts, and Register of Wills. As a commissioner, I have followed this "initiative" by Commissioner Roman through its inception in 2005.

First it was to have all row offices, except the sheriff since Sheriff Rossi is immensely popular, appointed rather than elected, thus taking away the citizens right to choose. Then, the commissioners were faced with three separate bills, one for the sheriff, one for the coroner, and one for the recorder of deeds, register of wills, and clerk of courts. The commissioners shot two of these bills down and when it was clear that some of us were steadfast in knocking these bills down, the last bill was tabled with first reading.

The argument by Mr. Roman, now a proponent of the creation of an elected Clerk of Judicial Records, was that we can't trust the voters to elect a qualified individual. On more than one occasion, the qualifications of the row officers were put to the test. Then, after consultation with President Judge Platt, the bill came to the commissioners which suggested an amendment to the Home Rule Charter which creates an ELECTED position (so where is the logic trail?) which will preside as Clerk of Judicial Records. Three Commissioners saw flaw in this bill, and voted not to send this to the voters as a ballot question. Some commissioners, I feel, just thought fine, let the voters defeat this measure much as they did back in 1996. And a few are lining up thinking that its worth a try and will save money.

I am all for saving money and government efficiency. I stood steadfast behind Don Cunningham as we voted repeatedly to pair down the costs of the courthouse, and told the judges that the climate of government in Lehigh County was like the game of Duck Duck Goose my wife, a first grade teacher, described to me over dinner one evening. The Parkland Press, unlike the Morning Call, covered that meeting very well! The point is, during the courthouse discussions, we had an several alternatives before us, with facts and figures supported by reputable engineering firms. We had supporting information to which we could see credible savings.. and 17 foot ceilings be damned.. we managed to reach a compromise which will result in significant savings and still not impede the judicial branch of government from performing their duties.

This is not the case here. There is no plan... there is no feasibility study... there is no input or discussion, nothing of substance other than we can eliminate two positions and save their salary and benefits.

Does anybody care about the fact that we have never been sued in Lehigh County in these areas, which is something that could wipe out any potential savings in one small mistake? I have sat through three years of budget hearings as a commissioner. One year of tax reduction, and two years of a sustained tax rate. These departments bring in a significant source of revenue to the county. They operate on a very tight budget. Year after year they receive kudos from the commissioner and the executive on the manner in which they serve their constituents within budget. Never is there a suggestion on consolidating or streamlining, or "going into the 21'st Century" (we are already there by the way, believe me)! When Commissioner Jack McHugh asked these row officers to go back and look at their already lean budgets when the county was faced with a 70% tax increase, they agreed to do so.

I was not a commissioner then, but was interested enough as a citizen to attend the budget hearings. It is something which more citizens should do, and it is an obligation of the Commissioners to make every effort to attend these hearings. It's why we get elected! I do not know the reasons, but I can tell you that several members of the committee which favors the ballot question did not attend a single budget session this year. The opportunity for commissioners to reduce spending and make amendments to the budget is to do so through the budget process. I am sorry for Don Cunningham that he was lured into this. He is better than that.

This is simply about the primary election next May. And getting free press. At what expense? At the expense of Lehigh County. That is the travesty. We are not Erie County. We are not Northampton County. I think we are better, and if the voters are smart enough to see through the smokescreen, we will continue with the way we are now, and continue as always to look for ways to make our already efficient system even more efficient...without killing it.

Kindest regards,
Marc Grammes
Lehigh County Commissioner at Large

I feel like Lois Lane. Thanks, Marc, for sharing your views.

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