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O'Connor pitches pay raise, rips colleagues as 'Democrats'

O'Connor vowed to oppose budget granting schools a 10 percent increase. O'Connor vowed to oppose budget granting schools a 10 percent increase.

Commissioner Bill O'Connor on Tuesday harshly criticized the Henderson County school system and his fellow commissioners, saying they were "overspending" like Democrats.

His remarks toward his board colleagues came a couple of hours after his own appeal to raise regular commissioners' pay by 40 percent and his own pay as vice chairman by 70 percent. He proposed a 19 percent pay raise for the chairman.
O'Connor, who was defeated in the May 8 primary by former Commissioner Grady Hawkins, accused school administrators of "horrendous management" and said the Board of Commissioners should not have tolerated School Board members' refusal "to answer simple questions about the operation of their budget."
Commissioners Charlie Messer and Larry Young came to the schools' defense, declaring that they are ready to vote for the School Board's funding request of $20.7 million, a $2.14 million increase over the current year's appropriation.
"This county has been run and operated for years, it will continue to be run and operated for years," Messer, who just won his fourth term on the board, said to O'Connor. "We've got a fund balance and we've got some needs and that's where you and I differ. And I think those needs can be met and will be met."
O'Connor came out of the box at the start of the meeting critical of schools for what he indicated was poor budgeting and administrative fat.
Later, when commissioners were wrapping up the budget work session, he strongly denounced the schools' budget request and his colleagues' support of it.
"Don't get me wrong, I think our school system is doing an excellent job" in the classroom, he said. "Its management of the business functions is horrendous, not only from the standpoint of vending but also from the standpoint that they continue to think they can be unaccountable to the people of the county.
"Every dollar of $120 million that is spent by the Henderson County school system comes from the people of Henderson County. The federal government has no place to get money except for the people who pay it ... The state has nowhere to get that money except from the people.
"They continue to be unaccountable. The School Board is elected to be accountable. They stand up here next to the county administration and they refuse to answer simple questions about the operation of their budget. That is unconscionable and really should not be tolerated by the people of the county and certainly should not be tolerated by the representatives on this Board of Commissioners. I for one will not support anything like the amount of the budget request, and I won't support a budget that contains it."
School Board member Rick Wood, who listened to the budget presentation on schools, said he was disappointed in the tone.
"I just observed some of the same unfair attacks on the school system from Commissioner O'Connor," he said. "I was encouraged by the defense of the school system in not micro-managing the school and by their reasonable support for the request we made for funding for next. And I'm looking forward to the coming years of a better relationship between the School Board and County Commission."
Young, who joined Messer in voting no on the 2011-12 county budget that slashed schools by 7.5 percent, said he would join Messer in voting for an increase this year.
"I agree with both Mr. Messer and Mr. O'Connor," Young said. "Some of the way to solve some of it is to do away with federal administration and turn it back to the states and the county, the local school board. If we don't restore that money for the school system I won't vote for the budget this year."
Commissioner Mike Edney was less emphatic in supporting the school request.
"We need to fund the schools with more money," he said. "I think we need to fund all our departments with more money to because I don't think the schools should be treated any better than the sheriff or these public safety people."
Edney said the commissioners should be careful about spending its rainy day fund for ongoing costs.
"If we use fund balance, at the end of our plan, we're broke, we don't have money left in the bank. If we're gonna give them 1.6 (million) then they can by God designate $100,000 of it for middle school baseball," he said, a request he has made in the past. "That's kind of where I'm at tonight."
Chairman Tommy Thompson signaled his support for a school spending increase.
"I feel like that's an absolute necessity," he said. But the amount raises questions. "Are we interested in raising taxes? Is that a yes or is that a no? If we give them more money, how much is that going to (carve) into our fund balance? I'm concerned about that.... I'm inclined to go along with Mr. Messer."
He said he would oppose any effort, like one commissioners pushed through last year in a 3-2 vote, to direct how the School Board should spend the money.
"I'm not inclined to put a tag with anything... I feel like they've got to manage those funds," he said.
Earlier in the meeting, O'Connor proposed raising the pay of regular commissioners from $10,000 to $14,000, the vice chairman from $10,000 to $17,000, and the chairman from $16,801 to $20,000. Asked later about his justification for the proposed pay increase, O'Connor said "no comment."
After commissioners' comments made clear that a majority favored the school request, O'Connor opened fire on his board colleagues.


He said he considered them friends. "But I have to say it's no wonder that this county doesn't elect Democrats to the County Commission with the kind of Republicans that we get on here that are willing to vote for millions of dollars of overspending, of spending beyond our means this year," he said. "I'm frankly appalled. We have to some day, and some day this board will, get serious about our overspending. It doesn't appear to be going to happen this year, and I'm saddened and disappointed."