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Editorial: In face of major cuts, McCleary must embrace transparency

McCleary Mayor Gary Dent rolled a financial grenade into the McCleary Council chambers last week — and he wasn’t there to answer questions, despite a crowd that overflowed into the hallway.

Even council members were scratching their heads with Councilman Jeff Catterlin noting he had been handed the budget an hour earlier and certainly wasn’t prepared to pass it right away, despite pressure from Dent to do so.

Dent has proposed laying off one of McCleary’s four police officers and the department’s police clerk. And, if the voters don’t approve a potential $400,000 maintenance and operations levy, he says he’ll dismantle the police department, outsourcing the service to either Elma or the Sheriff’s Office. Oh, he’ll also close the museum, the library and the cemetery. Yes, can you imagine seeing a closed sign on the cemetery? That could be possible if the levy fails and no volunteers are found.

Apparently, Mayor Dent had a stressful day and he was tired. He needed to rest, according to the clerk-treasurer.

He told me a couple of days later that he has an illness he’d rather not disclose to the public. I wish him well in his recovery and hope he returns to answer questions when the McCleary City Council convenes again at 7 p.m., Dec. 4. at McCleary City Hall.

Meantime, I’m pretty sure the police officer who could lose his job is stressed and I certainly know the police chief is stressed.

Instead of being there in person, Dent issued a strongly worded memo leaving the courageous Clerk-Treasurer Wendy Collins the only one in the room who could try to interpret the wishes of her boss.

Mayor Dent’s latest budget maneuvers can be characterized as a classic example of a post-election budget.

On Oct. 30, Dent introduced a $1.109 million operating budget that was tight — and included no layoffs. In fact, it increased spending in the law enforcement budget.

On Nov. 20, without being in the room, he introduced a $1.071 million operating budget that suddenly saw the need to lay off a police officer, a police clerk, consolidate court services with Elma and lay off the court clerk, merge fire protection services with Elma, cut the building official from 20 hours to eight hours and drain much of the reserves.

“As mayor, I am prepared to veto any budget that does not meet the criteria I have listed above,” Dent wrote to the council.

We’re talking about a drop in revenue of $38,000 that suddenly means dramatic cuts everywhere? Really? What happened? Or does it mean the first budget, introduced before Election Day, didn’t ever really work? And this one, done after the election results are known, was the real budget all along?

The mayor won re-election to an amazing sixth term by 37 votes. Anybody else think 40 people who voted for Dent may have changed their minds if they knew the museum, library, police department and fire department may be forced to close their doors?

Here’s a comparison: Elma Mayor Dave Osgood and Montesano Mayor Ken Estes both introduced bare-bones budgets this fall. Beyond some potential minor amendments, the councils aren’t likely to do many changes. That’s because both mayors worked very hard to do it right the first time in a clear and transparent manner.

Here, Dent has started from scratch.

At The Vidette, we received multiple calls about the council’s Nov. 20 meeting, confused about what the meeting was about and why it wasn’t on a regular meeting day. We encourage an extra level of transparency about what’s about to happen, especially if the city wants voters to approve a tax increase.

Steven Friederich is editor of The Vidette. Contact him at editor@thevidette.com

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