June 25, 2014

Editorial: Richland County Council’s latest hire superfluous, wasteful

WHILE Richland County Council might have hired a high-quality executive clerk to help council members be more responsive, there’s one big problem: The position is unnecessary.

WHILE Richland County Council might have hired a high-quality executive clerk to help council members be more responsive, there’s one big problem: The position is unnecessary.

This is a superfluous position that only serves to bloat upper levels of county government and waste taxpayer money.

The county has more than enough people on the payroll whose jobs are to help fulfill the duties council members say newly hired clerk to council Monique McDaniel will perform. County officials should rely on those employees to do the job or replace them with people who can.

The job of the new clerk to council, who will be paid no less than $80,000 a year, is to respond to complaints, attend community events and conduct research.

While council Chairman Norman Jackson said the clerk’s office had been short-staffed, we must agree with those such as County Councilman Seth Rose who questioned the need to fill the position, which had been vacant since 2011. The two other staff people in the clerk’s office have attended council meetings and recorded changes to county policy and law the past three years. Why is there such a need to fill that position now?

A job description received by The State in response to a Freedom of Information inquiry said the clerk will, among other things, respond promptly to constituent complaints, attend neighborhood meetings, be the “first responder to items of urgency,” recommend policy and conduct “comprehensive and complex research” for council members.

We struggle to see the need for that considering there are multiple departments whose duties include such work.

County Administrator Tony McDonald, who is hired by and reports directly to the council, serves as the county’s CEO and oversees everything from the budget to service delivery to administrative functions. Mr. McDonald has three assistant administrators to help him run the county; among other things, those assistants supervise policy and research. According to the county budget posted online, there are a total of 10 positions in the administrator’s office.

In addition, Richland has a nine-person ombudsman’s office that responds to constituent calls and inquiries of all kinds. The office is staffed with trained customer service representatives who send an electronic message to the appropriate department “within a few seconds, before the caller hangs up the telephone,” according to the Richland website Many problems are resolved within 24 hours, it says.

The county budget also reveals that Richland’s public information office, which responds to media requests and carries out other functions aimed at promoting the county and disseminating information, has four full-time positions.

It seems clear to us that this executive clerk’s position duplicates duties existing staff already should be doing. The only reason we can fathom for this move — and it’s an unacceptable one — is that County Council wants to have yet another person at its beck and call. If the motive here is to have a high-priced runner for council members, this is more than just a bad management decision; it’s a slap in the face to taxpayers, who have to foot the bill.

If it had to have an executive-level clerk — and we aren’t convinced that’s the case — the council should have reorganized using existing employees rather than filling a position unnecessarily. Taxpayers would have been grateful.

Our beef isn’t with Ms. McDaniel. From what we know, she is very capable. Our problem is with a council that seems dead-set on bloating county government just for the sake of it.

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