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GUEST COMMENTARY: Before voting for presiding commissioner, learn what the position entails

Thursday, October 28, 2010 | 5:46 p.m. CDT

As you, the voter, reflect on your opportunity to elect the next presiding commissioner, what might matter most? Here are some things you might want to know.

First of all, the presiding commissioner is nobody's boss. All elected officials have the same boss — you the voter. The presiding commissioner holds the same vote as the other commissioners and must work to secure the second vote in order to get anything accomplished. The presiding commissioner is the chair of the Boone County Commission and chief elected official for signatory purposes and general spokesperson for the social events. The chair can only sign what the body has given him or her the authority to sign. Each and every commission order authorizing a contract with the county has a clause authorizing the presiding commissioner or his or her designee to sign the documents.

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Communication is the key to a successful term. He or she must be willing to learn about the history of an issue and why a former decision may have been made. It is important to ask questions and not just assume you know what is best without understanding the total issue.

Traits that are important to have in any commissioner include the ability to listen, learn, compromise and be a consensus builder. Leonardo da Vinci is a good model to use as a county commissioner. He believed in looking at everything from the perspective of everyone that would be affected before making a major decision. To be a success, a consensus builder must look at a given policy from those most affected. In my opinion, there are at least four different points of view. Those are the understanding of the commissioner bringing the issue forward, his or her colleagues' point of view, the constituents impacted by the decision and the staff who will implement the decision. Each of these constituencies is greatly affected by change — buy in is critical to a successful adoption and implementation of any policy.

Understanding when issues don't quite make sense, the commission might be hamstrung by the statutes in which the body operates. In city charters, if the statutes are silent, the city assumes they can do it. In the county statutes, it is just the opposite. As a noncharter county, the commission works under the Dillon Rule doctrine. The doctrine states that a unit of local government may exercise only those powers that the state expressly grants to it, powers that are necessarily and fairly implied from powers granted by the state and the powers that are indispensable to the existence of the unit of local government.

Boone County is blessed to have elected officials and department heads that are very professional and that are leaders in their field. I have always said a commissioner's view of the world is a mile wide and an inch deep on issues facing the county. We must know a little bit about all issues, whereas the other elected officials can take a much narrower view but they have a knowledge base a mile deep. As a commissioner, you must respect their authority and find places to build consensus on countywide policy. Many of our county personnel policies are adhered to through voluntarily compliance.

The commission's only authority over other elected officials is during the budget process. The commission has complete authority over the budget within the revenue estimates provided by the auditor. However, once the commission approves the budget and revenue projections come in under budget, we don't have the authority to withhold funds. That is why we are very conservative in our budgeting procedures. Many times our budget shortfalls and extraordinary expenses are through state withholdings and/or unfunded mandates to provide new services.

As you visit with each of the candidates, you might want to ask them a few questions. I think it would be important to know if the candidate had met with the county auditor to understand the budget process, the capital projects and the overall financial health of the county. It would also be important to know if he took the time to meet with the county department directors. The commission is responsible for planning and building inspections, information technology, human resources, public works and purchasing. How would you as a candidate know everything you would be responsible for without meeting with the staff?

Karen M. Miller is the District I commissioner for Boone County.


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