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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Walter Griffith interview

Before you get into this, know that this was more an exchange of questions and answers than it was a actual interview. I have two formats for what ends up being listed here as an interview.

The first is the Q & A exchange like this one, with the other being what I like to call a 'beer summit.' The typical beer summit involves a face-to-face, plenty of cold brews and a few hours. And since we're both kind of busy right now, this will have to do.

One other note, I told Walter going in that I was going to stay away from specific conflicts or specific personalities for the purposes of this exercise, not wanting to add to any of the current rumblings and such are are weakening the underpinnings of the courthouse. That was my idea, not his. Plus, he didn't have to agree to this. So remember that, temper your vitriol if you feel the need to comment.

The exchange...

1. With a month under your belt as the county controller, it’s been, in my opinion, a turbulently busy ride so far. This early in the game, is it as you envisioned it before taking the oath of office?

a. The Office of County Controller was and is a great office full of responsibility and I envisioned this Office to be a very busy and turbulent one as well. I did understand before even running for the office that it would be a challenge and experience and it has not disappointed me as of this day.

2. We’re on the cusp of yet another tax increase, but there was some obvious resistance from various corners of the courthouse to your assertion that the ill begotten sheriff’s department tasers should be returned to the manufacturer.

We’re told that everyone involved worked as hard as humanly possible to present a balanced budget, yet some of those same high-ranking players also seemed more than willing to pay for an unbudgeted and heretofore unheard of $18,000 expense. Why the disconnect? Why the flippant disregard for procedure?

a. The past procedures and policies of the County were never followed or enforced in the past and therefore the resistance to someone in the Controllers Office that will enforce the policy and the State County Code is a foreign idea to some in the County Courthouse, and I understand this is a hard thing to understand but I will make them understand that the Commissioners are in charge and the Controller is the person that helps them with enforcing their policy.

3. Our county code is, in my opinion, a vast gray area that all but guarantees that no elected or appointed official can be held accountable for their actions.

Assuming you agree with that assertion of mine to some degree, how could we go about building more accountability, more checks and balances into the flailing system in the event that the Home Rule charter fails to be enacted?

a. The State County Code is not a grey area at all but a Code that is only “Grey” because of the lack of leadership by the people that are elected to follow the Code in the first place. The “Checks and Balances” are in place in the Code and the Controller is one of the people that are required to follow the policy. The Controller can make sure that the Code is followed by making sure the Purchasing Dept and County Commissioners and others follow the “Checks and Balances” in the State County Code.

3. Having held a couple of management positions of some importance in the past, I’m curious, does it bother you, or affect your decision-making process while knowing that some percentage of your coworkers probably loathe the very air you breathe?

a. The Controllers Office personnel are fantastic and great to work with and I have a great team of people that work hard every day and get the work done. There are others in the County that may feel differently because the ability to do what you want whenever you want is changing and they are loosing their sense of ownership and those people wont accept change easily but will accept leadership.

5. Attempting to prevaricate away a misstep usually compounds the original misstep, as has been proven time and again by elected officials everywhere.

Assuming you were to make a misstep, would you be quick to notify the press? Would you be forthcoming? Or should I say, would you deviate from the expected and accepted norms?

a. I would admit my shortcomings and also would not try to “Cover-up” anything and would accept the voters ability to forgive an honest mistake but am sure that the taxpayers are not na├»ve nor easily fooled.

6. Your job description probably precludes you from needing to be visionary.

But assuming that your office can bring some semblance of financial accountability to the courthouse, and assuming that balanced budgets and black ink rather than red are possible in the very near future, have you any thoughts on how we can faster facilitate the retiring of that $466 million in outstanding debts? That’s a big number and it is now consuming 21.7% of the annual budget, if I’ve got my numbers right

a. We can get rid of the debt by cutting spending and reducing the need for excessive personnel in various departments. I would eliminate all KOZ funding as well as TIF Funding until the County is on firm financial footing. Charity begins at home and until we can get a handle on the debt all un needed spending must stop.

7. During your recent taxpayer activist past, and now in your elected capacity, you have demonstrated time and again that not only row officers, but county commissioners as well have only a rudimentary understanding of the county code.

What that suggests to me is that people who had no intention whatsoever of better serving the residents of this county ran for office in the first place, and then neglected to do some necessary homework upon being elected.

How do we change that? How do we, as concerned taxpayers, force the candidates for elected county offices to demonstrate at least a working knowledge of the county code? During the debate process, perhaps? Or is this a failing on the part of our two local newspapers, the local talk radio outlets and the local bloggers?

a. The people of the County need to be more concerned with the “heart and Soul “of people that are running for office and not the empty promises. The people need workers to be elected to office and not people that can speak well and say what hey want to hear. The Newspaper does a great job and so does talk radio. But people need to listen more and talk less.

8. Now that you’ve made the huge leap from being an activist to the ranks of the elected, what advice would you have for the local GOP about ensuring that this county not descend back to the ranks of being a one-party county?

a. Everyone running for Office should do their homework and do the research on the issues and be sure they know what they can do to help the taxpayers and not themselves. The time for talk is over it now time to serve.

9. With the corruption scandal still swirling all about, what is the overall mood of the rank-and-file employees at the courthouse who played no part in any of this continuing nightmare?

a. The rank and file are as disgusted as the rest of the County and are unfortunately being labeled in a dishonest way and that’s unfortunate.

10. How is it that two people--you and I--who were on diametrically opposed poles whereas issues facing the City of Wilkes-Barre were concerned, now be on the same wavelength?

a. Because we finally both agree that the taxpayers deserve a honest and transparent government that is being managed by elected officials that are working for the common goal of accountability.

11. Going from the garage to the courthouse, how do you feel about wearing a shirt and tie in perpetuity? I know I always hated it.

a. I really don’t mind the Shirt and Tie but feel the clothes are part of the job much like the clothes were part of the job of being at the garage. I feel that you must be a professional in either position and the uniform is just different.

12. Has your car been keyed yet?

a. My car hasn’t been “keyed” yet and would not like to think that the position that I am in is one that would make someone feel that I am being unfair to anyone but am simply asking people in government to be accountable.

As for that one, Walter, I wouldn't put anything past some of these people.

Anyway, for what it's worth, there is it. Perhaps after things are sorted out and the courthouse becomes less tumultuous, we can do this again and in more depth.

Thanks, Walter.

Later

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