County commissioner questions consultant expenditure

Published 7:18 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

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By Mike Barnhardt
Enterprise Record

Are county commissioners really hearing what residents want from their county?
One county commissioner isn’t so sure.
The county has hired FountainWorks to come up with a report to guide commissioners in the future. It included an open community meeting, and focus group meetings.
Commissioner Benita Finney went to that open community meeting, and said at the board’s October meeting that she saw a lot of familiar faces. She also said the conversations seemed to have been led to get a desired result.
“My concern is, are we getting the information we need, or are we getting the information we are looking for? Most of the people in attendance were people that already are kind of in the circle, on board, community leaders, other elected officials. It was not anyone who we don’t already hear from.
“We’re spending a lot of money on things like this, and I’m not sure that it’s serving a purpose because the voices that I saw in that room, we hear from on a regular basis anyway.
“I’m concerned. The conservation was directed. There were questions and a big graph. It wasn’t what I was expecting because I want to hear from the community at large,” Finney said. “I think we need to think about this money we’re spending for such a low turnout.”
The turnout for the community conversations meeting was 46, on target with what FountainWorks expected, said Cindy Chapman, budget director for the county who headed up the project.
“We’re trying to get new poeple to the table,” said County Manager David Bone.
Commissioner Mark Jones wanted to be sure that a diverse opinion was heard, from people of different racial, socio-economic and other differences. Chapman said the county has tried to do that, seeking people to participate via email, invitations and news releases.
“Are we assimilating these groups, or are we just putting out a cattle call and we’re not getting a diversity of opinions or what,” Jones said.
“My concern is, why will people not come and talk to us,” Finney said.
One of the concerns from the meeting that came out is that people don’t know what the county does, Chapman said. “People don’t know what county government does until they need us, then they don’t know where to turn.”
A countywide mailed newsletter would be too expensive. “I know when I get political election materials in the mail, it goes straight to the garbage can,” Chapman said