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New commissioners’ growing pains are normal

Coming out of the county elections this past year, nine new people are sitting in representative positions on the Madison County Commission.

Nearly 40% of the Commission have never sat on the Commission, and two more were either elected after being appointed less than a year ago or were elected after not serving the past four-year term.

So that means there’s a lot of institutional knowledge no longer on the Commission and a learning curve that needs to be met for nearly half the Commission.

Four meetings their term, there have been a number of discussions that show the inexperience of some of those rookie Commissioners.

In September, the question of whether or not the Republican caucus meetings were legal was questioned.

Then in October, when the minutes of the September meeting didn’t reflect the caucus discussion, questions came up about what gets recorded in minutes and what doesn’t.

Then this month after Attorney Jay Bush submitted a budget amendment for $25,000 for overages worked in the past six months past his agreed upon workload, his ability to submit that amendment was questioned.

Commissioner Tony Black (D-District 2) brought up some of these questions, but they were supported by fellow Democrats Luther Mercer (District 1) and Aaron Ellison (District 7).

To clear up the caucus issue, members of legislative bodies (county commission, city council, school board, state house, senate, etc.) are allowed to meet and even discuss issues they could potentially vote on as long as the media (and theoretically, the public) are notified at least five days in advance.

The Republican Caucus of the Madison County Commission has routinely sent such notices out before they’ve met for the past five years.

If a group of Democratic Commissioners decided to formally form a caucus and meet, they’d need to do the same. And when they did, they’d have as much freedom as the Republicans to discuss issues and how they plan to vote on them.

The other two issues, meeting minutes content and contractual pay for the county attorney – seem to be more ambiguous because despite Ellison and Mercer being on the Commission for years, neither of them apparently thought either of these questions needed to be asked before the current term.

But no matter who is asking questions or how long they’ve served on the Commission, these questions warrant asking.

Should there be an actual written contract between the County and its attorney? Commissioners on each side of the aisle made arguments for each side in that debate on Monday.

Should the Commission meeting minutes reflect every word said in the meetings that can span from 45 minutes to more than three hours? Or is the bare minimum of simply recording things that were voted on enough for the minutes?

When I watched the October meeting when Black and Mercer questioned why the caucus discussion wasn’t in the minutes, I wished I could’ve been in the room at the time to fight the urge to say “check my Twitter feed, because that conversation was recorded there” because that definitely would’ve been recorded then had I been covering them.

But those paying attention to the Commission should expect maybe a couple more discussions while the rookies learn on the job some of the subtleties of their meetings and how they’re required (or expected) to operate.

That kind of questioning keeps the Commission accountable to itself and the taxpayers, which is never a bad thing.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.

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