Subscribers to the Sanford Herald might conclude the Board of Commissioners’ action on December 6, 2010 – which granted a bonus and short-term housing allowance to the County Manager – was unjustified and very unpopular among the general public.
Now, nearly six weeks after the fact, the outrage still has’t died down. Staunch conservatives continue to press the matter and some have even cut ties with the three fiscal conservatives they supported for office in November– Shook, Parks, and Womack.
I am not so presumptious as to believe this post will justify the act in question, at least not from the perspective of tea party types. But, after ruminating on the facts for six weeks and after discussing the matter at length with four of the commissioners, I would like to offer some evidence that might support the board’s action from the perspective of most citizens.
First, there is the issue of County Manager’s personal financial situation. Many of us have been in the situation where our income was inadequate to cover our bills, forcing us to seek a raise, look around for a better paying job, or to reduce our financial obligations (if possible). Few of us would view Mr. Crumpton’s personal finances a matter of concern to the taxpayers of the county; after all, he is paid a very nice salary, one of the top salaries among Lee County professionals. But all of us should be concerned that our County Manager might not be able to accomplish the full range of his duties if his attention was distracted away from pressing budget, tax, and managerial issues. That appears to have been part of the dilemma the commissioners were faced with- that Mr. Crumpton’s unsold vacant house in Scotland County was creating a serious financial strain for his family, that trying to get this house sold was becoming a distraction for him, and that his predicament might compel him to start looking for a better paying County Manager’s job elsewhere in the state. (Also noteworthy is the fact Mr. Crumpton is well-networked and popular around the state, stemming from his prior work as the NCACC Marketing Director.)
Next is the three year track record of Mr. Crumpton in Lee County. By all accounts, he has been an outstanding County Manager. He expertly managed the county through a very difficult two-year business recession without raising taxes or eliminating important county positions. He has managed to cut spending by $2-1/2 million the past two years while still keeping the staff motivated to high levels of service. The county even managed to generate several hundred thousand dollars for the reserve accounts this past fiscal year- a feat no one thought was possible.
A third factor on the minds of the commissioners was the looming revenue shortfall (from federal and state sources) now threatening Lee County for the 2011-2012 budget year. Commissioners are concerned they may have to find as much as $3 million in spending cuts to offset reduced governmental transfers to the county. Such large cuts would be virtually impossible to absorb without harming the county, absent the wisdom and expertise of a seasoned county manager and the full cooperation of his department heads. Imagine how difficult that feat would be if Mr. Crumpton sought and accepted a better paying job in a larger county this year, leaving us with the budget debacle and all the while needing to find a new (affordable) County Manager who has little working knowledge of Lee County and its governmental affairs. Anyone who has ever run a business knows that is the kind of situation you avoid at all costs.
The Lee County Board of Commissioners is responsible to the citizens of the county for taking action that preserves our quality of life and protects us from harm, including financial harm. Several of the commissioners voting to grant Mr. Crumpton the one-time bonus and six-month housing allowance truly believed the action to be a necessary investment, essential for them to successfully navigate this desperate budget year. These same commissioners claim it was not an act of compassion or even an acknowledgement of deserved compensation. Instead, the $14,800 was considered an insurance payment, intended to secure the county’s financial intersts through the 2011-2012 budget cycle.
The budget cycle has begun and Mr. Crumpton is still here, laser focused on his duties, and working collaboratively with the commissioners to find $3 million in cuts.
Is there evidence of fiscal sensibility in the board’s actions? Yes. During the month of December, the county netted more than $550 thousand in unforecast tax revenues from a large national company because of Mr. Crumpton’s savvy as a County Manager. He had ordered an audit of that company’s local property listing when the company claimed it was being billed for more property than it had listed. Mr. Crumpton didn’t have to order the audit, but he did. And it saved Lee County taxpayers more than $550 thousand. That’s what I call a return on investment!
In the end, commissioners will be held accountable for their actions. Let’s be sure to judge those actions over time, and in full consideration of their work, rather than by one or two isolated and seemingly inappropriate votes.