County Commission expedient to a fault

Killing advisory panel snubs public

By The Mercury

OK, we get it. The Riley County Commission wants and will establish a public building commission. We just wish commissioners would be more accommodating of citizens.

After the commissioners’ retreat earlier this month, for instance, they concluded that a public building commission was their only option for confronting the county’s need for considerably more space than it now has.

Though a public building commission is the more expedient option, it isn’t the only one. Commissioners could take their plans to invest millions — perhaps tens of millions — of dollars to add more space to voters. That’s been the norm up until now, largely because state law has required it for sums greater than $300,000.

Voters, of course, could say no, and commissioners don’t want to risk that. And with a public building commission — and themselves as its sole members — voter rejection isn’t a risk. A least not unless and until commissioners run for re-election.

In part to appease taxpayers concerned about being left out of such large spending decisions, commissioners promised transparency, and backed that up with plans to establish a citizens advisory panel. The panel wouldn’t have any genuine authority, but it held the promise of being a sounding board for commissioners.

That possibility ended Monday, when commissioners concluded that they don’t want or need a sounding board. In a 2-1 vote — a rare break in their unanimity of support for the building commission — commissioners decided not to establish an advisory board. Commission Chairman Dave Lewis and Commissioner Ron Wells voted against the panel in order to expedite the building commission’s decisions.

To his credit, Commissioner Bob Boyd, who had introduced the idea, was the lone vote in support of it. It “brings the public into the process” and would provide “better results,” he said. He went so far as to tell fellow commissioners that his support for the building commission hinged on the advisory panel’s inclusion

We’re not sure what impact an advisory panel would have on the results, but it would at least have given voters the sense that they had a say about how their taxes would be spent.

Riley County Clerk Rich Vargo was right to note that the building commission’s process would be open to the public. “The PBC was not created to keep the public out,”he said. Still, eliminating the advisory panel, which would have had the effect of inviting the public in, certainly suggests otherwise.

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