Editorial: Board member get togethers a bad idea

Published 8:57 am Thursday, January 6, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Mocksville Town Manager Ken Gamble knows what it takes for a town board to be successful. He told them so during the board’s December meeting as part of an orientation of sorts for new board members.
He is right about the board/manager system in which the town operates. The board hires the manager, the clerk and the finance officer. All other personnel decisions are handled by the manager. In fact, all day-to-day decisions are handled by the manager and department heads. They expect – and rightfully so – that board members will not interfere in their daily business.
That hasn’t been the case in recent years, and it was good for the new board members to hear how the system is supposed to work. Imagine a worker being told one thing by a board member, and something else by their immediate boss. It makes for a bad working environment.
It doesn’t mean that board members have no say. They receive information that most residents do not without considerable effort; the manager is at their beck and call. They take concerns to the manager, who handles them as he or she sees fit. If board members do not agree with the manager’s decision, they should take it up with the manager or full board rather than trying to remedy a situation on their own.
Gamble was right in advising board members that when the board makes a decision, it is the decision of the entire board. It doesn’t matter if two people vote against an item and three vote for it, the decision is one of the entire board and individual board members should not try to undermine the majority vote.
The board has had trouble with that one in recent years, as well. We live in a democracy where the majority rules. Respect that. This is probably barking up the wrong tree, because in today’s political climate the word respect has been lost. Maybe Mocksville can change that.
But we disagree with one of Gamble’s goals for the new board: have them meet quarterly as friends for a meal or get-together with no town business discussed.
On its face, this idea seems fine. Board members who know each other are less likely to be divisive just because they don’t understand where the other is coming from. Board members who know each other are less likely to undermine the other just because they don’t like them.
This idea is bad not because we can’t trust board members not to discuss town business at these get-togethers, but because it gives the public a level of distrust. Imagine seeing board members out to eat one night, then going to a meeting and the vote is unanimous against your side. You would think it had been discussed previously.
And can five town board members get together with the manager and mayor and not discuss town business? It’s possible, but not likely.
County commissioners used to get together prior to their monthly meetings. And when meetings ran so smoothly that it appeared every board member knew who was going to make this motion or that, people lost trust. To the average onlooker, it appeared – whether true or not – that decisions were made prior to public meetings.
Mocksville can and should avoid that.
Trust in government has been waning, and personal get-togethers would only hasten that public distrust.
Town Attorney Al Benshoff gets it. If you are a town board member and discuss town business with anyone – keep a record because it is the public’s record – not yours.
– Mike Barnhadt