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Baer defends himself, electoral politics in Columbia County

Dec 17, 2010 9:57 am
Art Baer, the Columbia County Budget Officer and Hillsdale Supervisor who was singled out by party chiefs for the county's GOP, Conservatives and Independence Party in a major public snit of late, has responded to those asking for his removal in a very public letter printed in local newspapers this week, including the Register Star. In it, he lambastes political officers for trying all they can to move the public world of government, an elected entity.

In responding to published letters criticizing my role as chairman of the county Board of Supervisors and its budget officer, I feel responsible to the citizens of Hillsdale, the Supervisors who have elected me to the position I hold, and to all county citizens whom I serve.

In these letters, I have been widely criticized for policies in my role as chairman of the board and most recently as budget officer. At first, I thought to respond by refuting each allegation point by point as being uninformed about how county government decisions are made, or as outright lies. This might have been instructive and thorough, but tedious to any but the most avid follower of county activities and governance.

One significant measure of performance for the county is the year to year change in the tax levy. Adjusting for inflation and uncontrollable costs such as pension fund contributions, the County has reduced expenditures (i.e. lowered operating costs) by almost $7.0 million over the past three years, which otherwise would have been in the tax bills. That’s real cash, not accounting entries and is a record attempted by the majority of counties in the state, but not achieved.

In fact, political party chairmen Fingar, Miller, and Torrey’s letters fail to identify the real problem they have with my leadership. It’s not about real performance, but rather about power and control of tax payer money, micromanagement of the Board of Supervisors, and more specifically, how it benefits a few who previously had, and now want to enjoy again, the benefits of “inside baseball.” I have stood, and do stand, in their way.

The list of abuses by the inside few in prior years is a long one and includes: six figure non-productive construction advisory contracts on the 325 Columbia Street County building; an attempted quick “flip” of land for a new County Commerce Park property at twice the price paid for it; undermining and bidding on property which the County wanted to build a campus including 1 City Centre; failing to detect major accounting errors at the Department of Social Services for over ten years, which severely affected our balance sheet and potential credit rating; Messrs Miller and Torrey trying to get me to agree to exorbitant wage demands by one of our unions because they had supporters in the bargaining unit; accusing me of trying to get tax concessions for Kohl’s when the spiritual leader of the Columbia County Republican Party (John Faso) was being paid as a lobbyist by the developer to secure those very concessions; and trying to coerce the current Chairman of the Board to either secure my resignation or fire me without cause, or else. The “or else” was explained as a future target placed on Brown’s back with a promise to try to stop any new legislation next year by the Board of Supervisors; and further threatening no political support for any incumbent who doesn’t vote Pat Grattan in as deputy chairman and county budget officer for 2011. I could go on, but perhaps an investigative reporter from this paper will see this as a series of reports rather than a one day bashing of Art Baer. I would personally welcome this examination.

The real issue is not whether I remain or don’t remain budget officer. It is about an attempt by a few self-serving individuals wrapped in a political blanket to control a government entity and thereby the selected distribution of taxpayer money. The old saying, subsequently disproved, is what’s good for General Motors is good for America. Applied here, it’s “what’s good for the good old boys is good for Columbia County.” This is wrong at every level and, regardless of my position next year, I will do everything in my power and encourage my supervisor colleagues and concerned county citizens to send a clear message that politics running government is bad policy, and politics mixed with greed is intolerable.

Art Baer
Columbia County Budget Officer
Hillsdale Town Supervisor