Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series regarding District 8 Commissioner Frank Bush’s views on county finances and changes in how the monthly meetings are conducted.
In addition to wanting a simpler document that shows the status of each specific Wilson County fund balance at the monthly meetings, District 8 Commissioner Frank Bush would also like to see more discussion about expenditures on the floor of the county commission meetings.
At the October meeting, Bush commented on the commission’s approval of $185,000 for two houses adjacent to the jail during a lengthy discussion about when to fund a position in the mayor’s office for the Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Without discussion, without a blink of an eye, we spent $187,000 to purchase two pieces of property that will not be useful for us for two to four years,” Bush said. “And here we are spending a lot of time that’s good time, I’m not arguing that, as we’re proposing to spend $99,000 for an office that will arguably generate incremental revenue to the county.”
Bush said his concern was that the county commission voted to spend twice that amount “without a blink of an eye.
“For me, it’s a far more useful and productive use of the money to re-establish the CVB than to buy real property that will have no use to us for years to come.”
Bush’s comments brought voices of disagreement from his fellow commissioners.
District 1 Commissioner Becky Sevier of Old Hickory, District 9 Commissioner Sara Patton of Watertown and District 18 Commissioner Adam Bannach of Mt. Juliet all rose to say the decision to purchase the property was thoroughly vetted in committees.
Sevier said the decision was not made “within a blink of the eye,” while Bannach said that the Public Works Committee “spent lots of time talking about this and have been discussing things like this for months.
“To say that no time was spent on that does a disservice to your fellow commissioners who spent that time in the committee meetings,” he concluded.
Patton said she felt the decision showed that the county was being “proactive for Wilson County citizens.”
Following the meeting, Bush said, “Some people took my comment as a criticism for the lack of discussion at the committee level, which was not it at all. Everything that I said has to do with the level of discussion and debate at the full commission level.”
Bush quoted Rule 38 in the “Rules of Order for Wilson County” which reads: “The role and jurisdiction of a Commission committee other than that required by law is to investigate and study matters, provide information and to present recommendations to the Commission.”
The Mt. Juliet commissioner would like to see more information and recommendations presented to the full commission before votes are taken on resolutions.
Additionally, Bush noted that the Rules of Order also allow for “a minority report from any and all committees” to be presented to the commission.
“So let's say there's five on the committee, three think that resolution is good, two don't,” Bush said. “There is the ability for the two to present a written minority report. I've never seen it done in my seven years.”
Because there are vehicles for members of the committee to express their opinion, Bush feels someone should stand up and summarize for the benefit of the public and other commissioners what the proposed expenditure is for and give the merits of it. If somebody disagrees, they also should have a chance to speak out.
“I wish there was more substantive debate at the commission level. There are rules that limit debate. Quite frankly, that’s the role of the mayor to control the flow of business in the meeting, and if that makes him work harder, so be it.”
He admits that he could do a better job in asking specific questions about resolutions before the commission.
“I can always do a better job,” Bush said, adding that sometimes he takes an extreme position in the hopes that “perhaps someday someone will respond and enlighten the entire commission.”
Bush said it’s important that the entire commission know the why behind the Budget Committee’s recommendations.
“If somebody wants a $100,000 over here in ag and somebody wants an extra $100,000 for computers in the schools, and we can’t do both, which one do we do? The Budget Committee is where all these things come together and are the kind of things that the county commission needs to be aware of when we vote.”
Regardless of whether the changes he’d like seen at the commission level happen or not, Bush’s bottom line is that he wants to see county government operate with a balanced budget, something he says he hasn’t seen published in the seven years he’s been in office.
“For seven years, my one mantra is ‘Let’s balance the budget,’’’ Bush said. “That is the overriding, specific recommendation. It’s not just criticism; it’s an action-oriented item.
“I’m not going to tell you how to do it, but I’m perfectly willing to get into the weeds if you need help,” said the commissioner with a Master’s of Business Administration from Stanford University.