It's not a $600 hammer, but . . .
Monday, May 14, 2012 10:00 PM
The fox is watching the henhouse, again. Or maybe, when it comes to your money, no one is watching?
At a meeting Monday, Montgomery County Commissioners expressed concern about the expense of Open Door Law information requests. Terry Hockersmith, Jim Fulwider and Phil Bane discussed a $7,907 bill the county received. According to Hockersmith, that's what it costs the county to comply with open door requests regarding Assessor Kelly Ewoldt's improper use of the county email system.
Afterward, when asked how the $7,907 figure was calculated, County Auditor Michelle Cash couldn't explain it to the penny. Yet the number was good enough for public record?
Now commissioners want the state to change the law. The thing is, the law does not prohibit the government from negotiating reasonable fees for work done. Unfortunately, no one in the local government seemed to know that. What's even more unfortunate is that none of the elected officials seemed to question what is clearly a ridiculous amount of money for the work that was completed.
We seriously doubt that if this had been a personal bill for one of the elected officials that they would have turned a blind eye to cost control. But they surely did when it came to spending taxpayer money.
First, it is not "their" $7,907. It is your tax money and it was spent finding out if anything else had gone off the rails in your government like the mess from the assessor's office.
The real issue is, why did it cost so much?
We were told the requested emails had to be pulled off the computer system by an information technology consultant. Then, the emails had to be reviewed by attorneys to ensure that Social Security numbers and privileged information was not passed on to the public.
These procedures beg questions. Why in the world did it take a specialist to gather emails off the county's system? What is the hourly fee charged by attorneys? Why couldn't that task be handled by someone who doesn't bill at more than $100 per hour? Clearly, it doesn't take an IT consultant to simply check emails. It doesn't take an attorney to identify emails that include Social Security numbers. Any reasonable individual, after a quick review of the Access to Public Records Act section on confidential records, would have been able to flag emails that might need legal review. Wouldn't that have been better than paying legal fees to review every email sent?
Why did the commissioners turn the entire investigation over to high-priced contractors? Why didn't they do some of it themselves? Why was such a huge bill allowed to be compiled with apparently no checks and balances? Why, after the fact, do elected officials and associates want to blame everyone but themselves?
The law regarding open records is simple. It's designed for transparency. The fact that attorneys and consultants were used was a decision made by your elected officials. It's not what the law requires.
The problem continues to be how your money is handled. If a private business had to audit e-mails and produce copies, it is virtually guaranteed that the cost would not approach $8,000. Yet when it comes to paying for things with your money, elected officials don't hold the purse strings as tight as they would if it were their own. The fact that it's your money being squandered doesn't seem to bother them.
That, not the media outlets from Crawfordsville, Indianapolis and Lafayette who were following the scandal in the courthouse, is the problem.