Candidate: Commission lacks transparency

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Incumbent Barry County Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren, left, and challengers Terry Burgess, middle, and Eddie Davison, say the Pledge of Allegiance before participating in a forum hosted by the Ozark Property Rights Alliance Thursday. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Burgess: Daytime meetings keep many from attending

The Barry County Commission meets two days per week from 9 a.m. to noon, and if elected, one candidate for presiding commissioner hopes to make some changes.

Terry Burgess, 31, of Seligman, said he believes the county commission is not open enough because of the meeting times, and he hopes to change that.

"I've said this entire time, this the office is not transparent to the citizens in the sense that they hold the meetings while people who pay taxes and carry this county are at work," he said. "It doesn't really work for the people who want to put their input in to take off from work and miss time."

Incumbent Cherry Warren, 75, of rural Exeter, said changing the meeting times could prove to be difficult, especially because it is not only the commissioners that would need to be present.

"Whenever the commission meets, the county clerk is the clerk to the commission and we work with other office-holders too," he said. "The treasurer is the right arm of the county commission, so it would probably be kind of difficult to get them all there to an evening meeting, but it legally could be done."

Eddie Davison, 65, of Shell Knob, said he would likely continue to hold meetings at the same time because of the need to have other office-holders available.

"I would lean more toward holding the meetings just like we do, in the mornings, simply because that office interacts with all of the other office-holders," he said. "There's also questions that come up where we might need legal counsel, and it's far easier to obtain legal counsel during the daylight hours than it is at night time."

Morning meeting times are the norm among county commissions in southwest Missouri.

The McDonald County Commission meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Newton County Commission's office is open Mondays to Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with business meetings on Wednesday mornings. Stone County commissioners meet on Monday mornings for business, Tuesday mornings for work sessions, and Thursdays for public hearings, beginning at 9 a.m. and reconvening at 1 p.m. after a lunch recess. None of the three county commissions host meetings in the evenings.

Gary Youngblood, Barry County clerk, said he has no objections to meeting at night, but such meetings would require extra effort from his office.

"The County Commission is such a different horse than a city council or school board," he said. "We would have to have extra staff come in because for every three-hour meeting, we have to record minutes."

Burgess said he understands evening meetings might be inconvenient for some officials, but the people's ability to have input is more important.

"I understand it would be a great inconvenience for other elected officials to have to come in the evening and work, but we owe that to the citizens to make sure they have an opportunity to be involved in the process and the decision-making that directly affects their lives" he said. "I'm not running for office for my convenience.

"I believe a public servant should serve the public, and that's what I intend to do, and if that means holding the meetings at 10 at night, that's how it will be done."

Lois Lowe, Barry County treasurer, said she also would not object to having meetings in the evenings, but based on past experiences, she doesn't believe such meetings would have many residents in attendance.

"It's not that we wouldn't be willing to do it, but the fact is we've had really important meetings scheduled at night, like for the law enforcement tax, and we couldn't get people to turn out," she said. "I think all the commissioners have cell phones people can call, and [the commissioners] will discuss issues with people and use that input."

Warren said the law enforcement tax meetings were small, and he does not believe people will attend regular meetings if held in the evenings. He also said if residents have concerns, they can call the commission to voice their opinions.

"My opinion is, I don't think we will have the attendance because people are busy at night," he said. "We are also accessible 24/7 and I take calls on my cell phone on the weekends. And, people can call the office and access us there if they want."

While Davison said he would hold meetings at the regular times, he would entertain hosting a monthly forum for residents to come discuss issues in person.

"I don't think it would be out of the realm of asking to have a regular forum where we might gather information on a regular basis at an evening meeting at the courthouse," he said. "We work for the people, so we need to be accessible to the people, so that means if we have to have an evening session, I certainly would not oppose that."

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