Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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October 25, 2013

RONNIE ELLIS: Does anyone think before speaking?

FRANKFORT — I wonder sometimes if politicians ever listen to what they’re saying. If it weren’t so depressing, it might be funny.

Start with that maverick, Republican Sen. John McCain, who has of late taken on the tea party members of Congress, calling them “wacko birds” and the government shutdown engineered by people like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee “shameful.” Except for the wacko birds, who would disagree?

But then I recall it was McCain who was willing to place former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the oval office. So when he calls people like Cruz reckless, I suppose he knows what he’s talking about.

There were several examples in Frankfort this week of politicians who apparently don’t bother to think before they speak.

The Local Government Committee called on the carpet Auditor Adam Edelen and the Department of Local Government to grill them over their failure to monitor the financial operations of Kentucky cities.

It was clear committee Chair Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, had heard from constituents who wanted to know what lawmakers were doing about it. It also became clear that Riggs and many of his colleagues hadn’t bothered to read the law.

Edelen had to remind the committee his office is required by Kentucky law to audit counties — but not cities. And if lawmakers — for whom it’s always, always someone else’s fault — want him to audit cities, they’re going to have to pony up some money for more auditors than the 109 Edelen has now and who conduct about 600 audits each year.

That didn’t sit too well with committee members. Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, sarcastically offered to add Edelen to the line of agencies asking for more money. Edelen pointed out he hadn’t asked for more money; he’d simply answered a lawmaker’s question about what it would take to increase his workload.

Later Thayer said he believes “the market should set salaries.” There aren’t that many areas of the economy where wages are NOT established by the market. But Thayer’s is one of them. As I suggested to him after the meeting, given the low public approval ratings of lawmakers, his salary might be zero if it were set by the market.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, told Edelen the legislature would have to set priorities in tight financial times. If you haven’t learned by now, anytime a member of the Kentucky General Assembly talks about “priorities” what he really means is no new taxes and across-the-board budget cuts — not hard choices about which programs are most important and which we can afford to do without.

After grilling Edelen, lawmakers then turned their displeasure on the DLG folks because the agency is the repository for required financial documents submitted by the cities. But DLG isn’t empowered to act on those financial statements when they raise potential red flags.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, was busily ridiculing the law and the agency for its powerlessness when one of the DLG officials smiled and interjected: “You did that,” meaning lawmakers wrote the laws by which DLG operates.

Fortunately there was one lawmaker who sat quietly through the hearing, apparently actually thinking about the problem and how it might be addressed.

“It is our responsibility to decide do we want cities to have some oversight as counties do,” Sen. R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, told his colleagues near the end of the meeting. “It is our responsibility to fix that.”

Amen. Now if Palmer can somehow convince 137 colleagues to accept their responsibilities, make hard choices and set real priorities, maybe we’ll get some things done.

I wouldn’t hold my breath.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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