12/26/06 — Duplin chairman calls for open government

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Duplin chairman calls for open government

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on December 26, 2006 1:45 PM

The new chairman of the Duplin County Board of Commissioners says some county residents believe too much of the county's business is being conducted out of public view and he wants to change that perception.

Chairman David Fussell said that in his new post he will work to keep discussion of all issues in the open.

"Everything in Duplin County can and should be improved, especially our schools, public safety and tax rate. If we will all work together, and I mean everybody, we can do that," Fussell said last week. "There has been a perception that our county government was running behind closed doors and we want to address that -- not have as many closed sessions and discuss county business openly.

"Perception is important. The public has got to see that we are working for them and that we're discussing openly."

Fussell said the commissioners will follow rules of procedure outlined in their "little red book" by the state Institute of Government, basically a condensed version of Robert's Rules of Order.

"If you follow it, everything's open and everybody knows what you're doing and there's no secret agendas," he said.

Fussell said he also wants the commissioners to be more involved and hands-on in running the county -- willing and able to bring up any issues they think need to be addressed by the board -- and for the county's residents to have more opportunities to express how they feel about issues.

New Commissioner Cary Turner said Fussell's approach is overdue.

"There's so much distrust from the citizens toward the board," he said. "I'd like to do things in a way that show there's nothing to hide. A lot of the gossip going around in the county is just because of poor communication.

"I'd like to have more citizen involvement and I'd like to have more night meetings so people who work during the day can come and see what's going on. I think out of respect for the citizens those are good moves to make."

But some commissioners -- including former chairman Zettie Williams -- said they don't believe there ever were any secret agendas. During her years as chairman, Ms. Williams said, the commissioners followed legal procedure and only held closed sessions when absolutely necessary for economic development and personnel issues.

"I feel like we've always conducted the people's business openly," Commissioner Reginald Wells added. "There are some closed session items that we can't discuss, but I feel we've been very open."

Wells said he was concerned about the way Fussell conducted Monday's meeting. County Manager Mike Aldridge appeared shunted aside, he said.

"His responsibility is to give direction to the board and make recommendations to the board," Wells said. "We've been accused in the past of micro-managing. If we employ him as county manager we should allow him to do his job. We have a knowledgeable manager and a knowledgeable staff and we should utilize that."

Fussell acknowledged that Aldridge's participation in the meeting was less than in the past, but he emphasized that he was not trying to push Aldridge aside, only take a more hands-on role in conducting the meetings.

"The county manager is an employee of the county board. Let's put the shoes on the right feet," he said. "Mike's a great guy and we're not trying to take anything away from him, but as chairman, it's my role to run the meeting."