Citizen input needed Monday

Is it possible for government leaders to have too much control?

No matter the level — local, state or national — we believe the answer is yes.

This Monday, at 6 p.m., citizens across Sampson have an opportunity to weigh in on an issue that, if adopted, could give Sampson’s Board of Commissioners far more control over the Department of Social Services and the Health Department than perhaps they need. It is a move, that if approved, would become effective just a few months from now, on April 1.

It will be up to residents to ask the pertinent questions and provide reasonable arguments as to why such a move might not be good for our county and those directly impacted by the two agencies in question.

At the public hearing, to be held in the Sampson County auditorium, 435 Rowan Road, Clinton, options for consolidating the two human services agencies will be discussed, and public input is ought.

Among those options are one that would give commissioners direct control over the Board of Social Services and the Board of Health. They would appoint advisory committees for the two agencies and assume the authority to hire and fire agency directors, with management of those directors under the county manager. Another option would consolidate the agencies and creating a consolidated health services board which would serve as the policy-making board but would be appointed by the commissioners. Option 2 also provides that the county manager would hire and oversee a human services director, but again under the direction of the commissioners. The third option is similar, consolidating the agencies, abolishing the two governing boards and putting commissioners in charge of the two agencies, making them policymakers, rule makers and administrators of the merged agency.

All three options overhaul the governing boards of those agencies and allow commissioners to wield more power in the hiring and firing of leaders. It is a heady position for county leaders to put themselves in and one, we believe, that leaves little room for checks and balances among two very important agencies.

Sampson would not be the first county to approve such a consolidation (20 others have done so since 2012), but we find it unusual that they want to do so, particularly when very little has been discussed about the need to make such major changes.

While the board, at the behest of chairman Clark Wooten, wanted a consolidation looked into back in July and a January hearing on the options was set in November, there has been no public discussion on how such a drastic move would bring cost-savings to Sampson. What’s more it’s a turnaround from another consolidation decision commissioners made in latter 2017, one which nixed a joint planning department with the city. Wooten initiated the nixing of that consolidation, set to take effect in July of this year.

Does that mean commissioners only want consolidation if it gives them more power? It’s a question worth asking for sure.

Other questions, and ones we hope the public will ask at Monday’s public hearing, would be is there cost-savings? If so, how much? When? And, based on the options, how would commissioners handle the added power and control they would be given?

Consolidation might bring organizational improvements; it might improve customer service; and it might save money, but we don’t know and we think we need to as a county before any overhaul is done. And we are not sure commissioners need so much control over those agencies.

Boards can have too much power