Commissioners kill bid to open all budget talks

February 02, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Carroll commissioners decided yesterday to make some decisions in private about cutting $3.4 million from the county budget.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy forced the issue during a staff meeting, making a motion that all budget meetings be open to the public.

The other two commissioners and the county's budget director didn't like the idea, and the motion died.

Mr. Lippy suggested opening all budget meetings two weeks ago after a local cable TV reporter asked that the meetings be open.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell was the most adamant about keeping some meetings closed.

"I can't commit myself to have the newspapers dictate how we run the government," he said.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge at first seconded Mr. Lippy's motion and then changed her mind, saying the motion was "too tight."

Mr. Lippy wanted to open all budget meetings except discussions about individual personnel decisions.

In the past, the commissioners met in public with all county agencies to discuss budget requests, then met privately at the end of the budget process to hash out final cuts.

Mrs. Gouge said the commissioners need that private time at the end of the process to make decisions. It's not right that agency directors learn about cuts from reporters instead of the commissioners, she said.

Mr. Lippy said that that was not a problem with him.

Budget Director Steven D. Powell said the closed meetings give the commissioners "a full sense of freedom to throw out ideas."

He likened the process to a few family members making decisions in private and then telling the rest of the family.

It would be a mistake to open more meetings than required by the state open meetings law, Mr. Dell said.

"I don't see encumbering ourselves to another position we might regret," he said.

Prestige Channel 3 reporter Matthew Brock argued that he and other reporters should be allowed to attend all budget sessions.

The public should be aware of the commissioners' decisions because public opinion plays a role in the process, he said.

The commissioners begin meeting in open sessions with agency directors Thursday.

County agencies have requested $128,158,080 for fiscal 1994, which begins July 1, but revenues are projected to be only $124,779,695.

So the commissioners must cut about $3.4 million.

The requested budget is $8.4 million higher than the $119.7 million budget adopted in fiscal 1993.

After adjusting for inflation, the fiscal 1994 budget is the same size as the budget was about six years ago, Mr. Powell said.

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