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Commission self-dealing, waste not gov't founders envisioned

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By Holly Audette
Columnist

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

I love Fourth of July celebrations. Everything red, white and blue. Summer in full swing. Fresh produce in abundance thanks to farmers who persist in a difficult profession. Lemonade, watermelon, ice cream, sweet tea — in every patriotic presentation you can think of. Annual trips to the beach, family reunions, and lots of fresh seafood provided by our local fisherman struggling to keep a working profession alive. We live among so many all-American experiences and are blessed by each of them.

Today many of us will watch a dazzling display of fireworks announcing the culmination of our nation’s birthday celebration. I am proudly patriotic and the Fourth of July thrills me for the boldness of our love of country.

But there are forces at work that truly wish to see our great nation be completely different than our founding fathers intended. The liberty they sacrificed so much to guarantee was all about the individual. The intent was to minimize the impact and control of governing over opportunity. This is so clear in the words of their declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Yet every day we hear more people demanding our government do more for more. We have abdicated responsibility to preserve the precious liberty at the foundation of our nation’s forming. Few of us vote, even fewer inform ourselves. We march and scream as the left dictates an attitude that freedom and free markets provide little opportunity compared to big government.

Representative government seems less and less representative of those who fund government, even at home. A perfect example is the Albemarle Commission, which is supposed to be an oversight agency for a number of services provided the region like Meals on Wheels and transportation. Once again the commission is in the headlines about abuse of the public trust.

The commission’s supposed oversight comes from an appointed 14-member regional board. A majority on the board, led by Chairwoman Marion Gilbert, seems very indifferent to a reported violation of conflict-of-interest law involving the agency’s executive director. The director signed a $22,000 contract with her husband, another full-time government employee, to consult on the construction of a new building that was never approved or built. Board member Linda Hoffler said that, since the new building was not going to be built, the conflict-of-interest violation and waste were “moot.”

The commission also requested a three-fold increase in annual rent, an almost 200 percent increase in annual operating costs and a remodeling that included a 1,400-square-foot kitchen and a separate staff kitchen that would consume $900,000 of a $1.3 million fund balance. Gilbert led the advocacy for this extreme spending while another commissioner chastised those few members questioning it.

It takes only a few members of the board to agree that the potential law-breaking and waste matter enough to actually represent the public’s interest by holding an immediate called meeting. Board members Clayton Riggs, Sandy Duckwall and Elizabeth White agreed. Three of 14! The rest were perhaps too busy celebrating the Fourth of July.

How ironic. No wonder there is so much cynicism and diminished patriotism. If our representative form of government produces so many self-interested decisions, bigger government and little regard for the law and the continued perception of the club attitude of the “swamp,” we are truly not the nation intended by our founders, no matter how many times we celebrate their incredible feat.

Holly Audette is a small-business owner active in political and civic causes. 

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