Sunday, October 17, 2010

The cost of incumbency: Pensioners hit pay dirt

Retirement pensions based upon term pay scales are exponential burdens on taxpayers when incumbents stay in office until the minimum federal retirement age. Cherokee County could save millions allocated for insurance premiums and pension funding if citizens vote out long-term officeholders. There are no “political parties” within Cherokee County, just strategically placed family members of the same people pretending to be Christian conservatives or civil-minded Democrats. Only candidates outside that family circle can bring both fiscal responsibility and citizen oversight to a political boss system that rewards itself with nepotism and cronyism. How many incumbents are also of Medicare age, but instead continue to have their county medical insurance coverage subsidized by the taxpayers? The only way for Cherokee County to pull out of the current economic and unemployment quagmire is for voters to remove incumbents and start with fresh policies. The Cherokee County incumbents in November and in 2012 are relying on voter fraud, apathy, ignorance and undeserved trust to keep their coveted ever-expanding pensions.

This is especially true for those public officials who arrogantly lie in print and in person to the people, at whose will they are supposed to serve. Conversely, the new batch of candidates will not drain the taxpayers’ coffers because they haven’t become vested in the county retirement system. Plus their moral compasses will still be intact, making their tenures the more cost-effective over the Good Ol' Boys and Biddies. For too long, the same clique has been rewarded for smearing political opponents and bringing false charges against them in order to distract from their own political chicanery. This has been the highest priority of the Cherokee County district attorney. Their admirers in the local newspapers follow suit and pile on the diversionary tactics each election cycle. Cherokee County recently witnessed the resignation of a sheriff’s deputy (who sent out slanderous emails about the Jacksonville police chief), only to be praised for his actions by his employers and offered his job back when presumably the stench dissipates. (Source: Jacksonville Daily Progress, May 20, 2010) Taxpayers are not only subsidizing this criminally malicious behavior, they are funding it past retirement age and for the next generation of nepotists and cronies.

Why reward with accruing perks those who abuse the power of their elected offices, lie to their constituents and squander taxpayer dollars on blatant political witch hunts? Look no further than those on the bandwagon trying to focus attention on Precinct 3 Commissioner Katherine Pinotti, while the rural properties of the judge’s dog kin have been maintained for decades with county equipment. Look at the salary expenditures for public servants in the district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department (along with their under-the-counter designees) who claim to be “investigating” the propriety of a truckload of gravel rolled out on Patterson Lane. (Source: Jacksonville Daily Progress, September 18, 2010) They never “investigated” themselves for digging catfish ponds and paving deer leases for their bosses. They will however spend their salaried time illegally eavesdropping on the Commissioner’s phone conversations in order to vet the next round of grand jury members. Or as they call it, “continuing to investigate.” Working with an annual budget of about $20 million, incumbent members of County departments focus on political enemies, blackmailing each other, or stealing the money outright.

Whether out of fear of retaliatory loss of advertising revenue or plain ignorance, the local media spins reports on how taxes were unlawfully siphoned and withheld throughout decades of public corruption. Days before the 2010 midterms, the current county judge touts to have “saved” over $250,000 commissioners were forced to cut from the county budget, only because it became public that the county was being overtaxed. Was the money just floating around due to poor bookkeeping? (Source: Jacksonville Daily Progress, August 23, 2010)

The hucksters and supporters call it “a rainy day fund.” Imagine how much money off the record from overtaxed property owners has been confiscated in the last 30 years, to make it appear on the record that certain county agencies are running under budget. The current county judge has reigned over this budget for the last eight years before Cherokee County slowly nudged itself into fiscal oversight. The political gamesters actually congratulate each other for what they call “surplus” funds after court-ordered audits reveal a massive amount of overtaxation having to be stricken from the county budget. Proving Cherokee County’s decades-old policy of shuffling money out-of-sight and out-of-mind; funds that should have been lawfully dispersed to property owners and NOT into undisclosed interest-bearing accounts administered by the county.

Strategically placed supporters of incumbents defy logic with emotional and factless pleas to voters to keep the same people in office each election cycle. Skewed, even fabricated balanced county budgets are collectively and singularly praised in the local newspapers by these political choreographers. We certainly know by now to expect incumbents’ cousins and buddies to come out of the woodwork in support of the same song and dance. However a few brave citizens are beginning to break ranks and candidly discuss the facts surrounding the misuse of county funds and deliberate overtaxation, i.e. surpluses hidden from the public. Perhaps one aspect for discussion is the egregious property tax disparity between those associated with the dog kin of county employees and the inflated assessments on those not related to assessors.

Cherokee County’s auditing costs over 1% of the county’s approximate $20 million budget each year. The county auditor’s budget for 2010 was reported as $242,000; for 2011 it will be nearly $250,000. (Source: More taxpayer money for accounting reconciliation is requested for each public official accused of embezzlement, i.e. the Rusk Water Department Clerk, the Director of Adult Probation, the Justice of the Peace Clerk, etc., etc. Prosecuting theft of public funds may be an economic booster for prosecutors, attorneys, investigators and auditors alike, but it is the taxpayer who picks up the bill. The thieves get to keep their City, State and County benefits. Until all the shysters are removed from office, Cherokee County taxpayer money will be used on inflated county pensions; against those who shake the family tree; and out-of-county auditors called in to clean up the mess. (Source: Jacksonville Daily Progress, September 27, 2010)