County Manager Comments on BOC Cell Phones

Karen Degges, County Manager, has submitted the following as a comment on the blog.  However, in order for everyone to be able to read it, we have copied the comment to send out as a regular blog entry.  We urge you to read the original blog as well concerning cell phones for the commissioners as you read these comments.

Karen Degges, County Manager commented on Taxpayer’s Now Paying for Commissioner’s Cell Phones
August 26, 2013

Sorry, had a typo…meant to type the BOC did NOT make the decision to get themselves the phones. That type of decision is within the County Manager’s level of responsibility. Thank you, Karen

Karen Degges, County Manager commented on Taxpayer’s Now Paying for Commissioner’s Cell Phones

Monday, 8/26/13,

I would like to comment and at least attempt to share information with some of you that are upset about the cell phones. First, the BOC did make the decision and get these phones for themselves. Blame is being put where it doesn’t belong. The former county manager ordered the phones so that staff could better communicate with all the board members, and so that they could easily access email and keep up with important issues in a timely way. These phones are used by executives all over the world, and are common place now as a management communication tool. Jasper County has so much going on, our staff needs to keep our executives (and that’s what these five people are) in the loop. This is especially more challenging when several of them work on the other side of Atlanta during the day, and they are not near a computer for large parts of the day. While the former county manager ordered them, I would have done it if she had not. These five people have been elected by you, the citizens of this county. They cannot tell the citizens what’s going on if they are not in the loop on a daily basis. Would you on the flip side be critizing them on this blog if they were out of the loop, saying they are not staying on top of their jobs and the issues? I bet the answer would be yes. Many counties give their board members smart pads too, at a much higher cost than the phones we have set them up with. If you want to be upset with someone about this particular expenditure, come see me, but don’t beat these guys up on a blog that is run by people who never come and discuss any of their concerns with anyone in my office. My door is always open and I welcome any citizen who has any concern about any issue to sit down with me and have a chat. Flinging hate around isn’t helping us move forward or constructively fix problems. None of these people have a big head Cheryl, and Mr. and Mrs. Young, we are doing everything we know to do to bring more jobs to this community as quickly as possible, and get the tax burden off our residential customers. I welcome any ideas anyone has about how we can do even more. Thank you for giving me a chance to defend the smart phone decision, and speak from my heart on our efforts to improve everyone’s quality of life in Jasper County.

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2 Responses to County Manager Comments on BOC Cell Phones

  1. Karen Degges, County Manager says:

    Mr. Short, I was a bit confused after reading your response to my comments. On the one hand you seem to be writing about how trivial of a decision it is to set the BOC up with phones (technology that has been commonplace for many years). Then you appear to be trying to convince readers that this type of decision is why governments are going bankrupt. You comment “Empires have risen and fallen, nations founded, Constitutions penned, world wars waged and small companies grown into global corporate entities all without the aid of a cell phone”.

    Our constitutional forefathers also didn’t have computers or automobiles, many of them claimed other human beings as their property, and they didn’t allow 52% of the population to vote. Based on your apparent logic, should we regress on these issues as well? Of course not. Technology and innovative thinking is what has allowed our country to move forward while others have lagged behind. The constitutional signers also never invisioned a world where a handful of citizens in a small rural county would file hundreds of open records requests each year. I add that comment not to attempt in any way to take away the public’s right to do that, but to specifically address why I as County Manager, would not be willing to allow our BOC to use their personal cell phones to conduct County business.

    Beyond the need to have decent communication with the BOC that will allow them to access email, respond to citizens in a timely way and conduct County business, there is the issue of personal privacy. If the BOC conducts County business on their personal cells, those records are potentially subject to open records requests. All of their phone records could be subject to public scrutiny, not just the County related ones. I do not believe it is fundamentally acceptable to ask our commissioners to give up personal, private information that includes their family’s phone numbers and personal emails, to the public. A line of decency has to be put in place to separate their personal lives from their public service. Therefore, they must do County business on a County cell phone to protect their right to privacy, and of course those records are available to the public. The Taxpayer’s Watchdog Group requests those records each and every month, and they are provided each and every month.

    I believe in engaging in constructive dialog about the public’s issues and the needs of the County. It is not helping the County address problems or move forward, if people who are unhappy with their government simply vent on a blog. That is everyone’s right to do that, as it is mine (free speech applies to everyone, not just the people you approve of Mr. Short). However, if citizens are sincere in wanting to find solutions, please give me or your elected officials something constructive to work with. I have watched this blog for over two months, and I’ve seen a lot of “pot shots” being taken at the County, it’s staff and elected officials. I have come away with the impression that the goal in this forum is more aligned with attacking, inciting and agitating, not helping find solutions. What is that old saying…if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem?

    This BOC just lowered the County’s taxes by over $50,000 with very little said about that positive action. But there has been plenty of negativity over cell phones. I am not trying to suppress free speech…I am engaging in it. I don’t want to have an adversarial relationship with any citizen…I welcome constructive dialog. As I stated previously, my door is always open. Stop me on the street if you want to talk about an issue, or sit with me at one of the local restaurants. The more minds we can put to solving a problem, the better the solution will be. To the wonderful folks in this community (and that includes local government employees and elected officials) that I have met since coming to work for the County, I extend a heartfelt thank you for your warm welcome and exciting ideas. I look forward to doing everything in my power to contribute to making this County all it can be and more. Karen

  2. Lynn Short says:

    “These phones are used by executives all over the world, and are common place now as a management communication tool. Jasper County has so much going on, our staff needs to keep our executives (and that’s what these five people are) in the loop.”

    Empires have risen and fallen, nations founded, Constitutions penned, world wars waged and small companies grown into global corporate entities all without the aid of a cell phone.

    But, putting the obvious nonessential need of a smart phone aside, lets address the executive side of the decision , or should I say the non-decision , which has become more the modus operandi of the current county executive office than not.

    Executives do not rule by committee, they lead by example. Sending a newly hired manager, to provide duck and cover by throwing the former manager under the bus is hardly the hallmark of executive leadership. Do these executives not have a voice? Can they not articulate their own policy and office essentials sans need of a PR manager running interference?

    If the executives cannot accept responsibility for a decision as trivial as a smart phone purchase, then who are we to expect to shoulder the burden of decision in the -God forbid- event of a real county crisis?

    The County Manager?

    Are We the People of Jasper County now to look solely to the office of a county employee for guidance and assurance that our county needs and fiscal responsibilities are being met?If so, then why the unnecessary expenditure on maintenance of elected administration, when one employee can perform all the work, make all the decisions and answers all the questions?

    Since when did the office of a county employee become a political propagandist tool used to bash any who dare to overtly exercise their first amendment rights?

    It is an affront to the taxpayers of Jasper county to have a county employee whose position should be apolitical out publicly denouncing those who question the necessity of county expenditures as “flinging hate.”

    Is the County managers scope of duty now to include the marking and division of the current administrations’ supporters from non-supporters*?***

    **What next, closed county meetings where no questioning taxpayers are allowed a presence, much less dissent?

    If Ms Degges or the executives felt the need to justify their smart phones purchases,they could simply post the monthly billing records on the county website and all could be afforded the opportunity to witness just how vital internet access is to the administration of county business.

    Purportedly, the executives have nothing to hide and the county taxpayers pay for the phones, so why not disclose the billing records and fully disburse all naysayer doubts? Ms Degges makes the argument that smart phones are necessary to for the management of todays complicated municipal structures and besides every executive has one, but then the case can also be made that a hundred US cities teetering on the edge of bankruptcy is hard evidence that smart phone communication by executive administration has very little to do with the competent management or solvency of cities.

    Sometimes the vaunted executive acts in an un-executive manner.

    And, this is why open meetings are preferable to secretive decisions made by smart phone.

    As Ronald Reagan once quipped on political action trust, but verify.

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