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Tension high at county commission meeting as Kenney lashes out

May 12, 2011
OSSIPEE — It appeared that Carroll County Commissioner Asha Kenney was not having a good day the county commissioner's meeting last Wednesday, May 4.

Just 42 seconds into the meeting she was mocking a fellow commissioner, on the defensive, rolling her eyes and sarcastically asking an audience member who had asked a question about the previous meeting's minutes, "What's your problem?"

While the other two commissioners, Chair Dave Sorensen and Commissioner Dorothy Solomon, remained composed, it was clear that the mood of the meeting was set from that point forward.

Effingham resident Maureen Spencer said she must have been out of the room during the April 27 meeting when Kenney asked about the appointment of former county commissioner Chip Albee as deputy treasurer and asked about his appointment as chairman of the 501c3 committee. Spencer asked Kenney why she asked about these items. Kenney responded, "I need to know. I am a commissioner here. I need to know what is going on in the complex…so what's the problem?"

"First of all, there is no problem. I don't need to be spoken to, I'm just asking a question," said Spencer.

"You've got your answer. What's your next question," snapped Kenney. Spencer, who initially said she had "a couple of questions," decided not to ask another.

Then it was former commissioner Chip Albee's turn at public comment. "I have been avoiding the meetings but it seems I can't avoid them. In the eyes of Commissioner Kenney I seem to be a problem. I was asked to be the assistant treasurer. There was a vote taken and I was sworn in. As far as the 501c3 is concerned, the minutes of those meetings, what goes on there, and who they select for a chairman is of no concern to the board of commissioners at all," he said. The 501c3 committee was set up to raise funds and create programs to enhance the nursing home, providing for items not funded in the regular budget.

Albee then tried unsuccessfully to get an answer from Kenney as to what her plans are for the next four years, beyond secretarial work. His visit to the meeting came on the 100th day that Kenney has been in office.

"You were elected to be a public servant and as a citizen of the area from which you were elected. I look at the voting record of the last 100 days. On any significant issue, the vote has been two to one. So, effectively you are irrelevant and I'm not certain I want an irrelevant commissioner," said Albee.

"What are you going to do over the next four years? What are your goals? I am a constituent. That's what I'm asking. I'd like an answer to that question not just a berating of me personally if you wouldn't mind," said Albee.

Kenney responded that her main focus for now, as she has pointed out in several recent meetings, is creating better minutes of county meetings. Once that is taken care of, she will move on to something else. She added that this week a new recording secretary will be taking minutes at the meeting – a professional, "who will do them better."

A very heated Kenney did the battle of words with a very calm Albee, raising her voice several times and accusing Albee of simply attending the meeting to attack her. "Mr. Albee, I don't have to answer to you. I think you are irrelevant. I'm not a spender. What did you do in two years? You just spent $24 million. That's all you did," said Kenney. "I don't know what your problem is Chip Albee, why you bring all this nonsense up. You need to get over your loss; you're just a sore loser."

"What part of this are you angry about? The fact we've had tax cuts two years in a row, which has never happened before? The fact the $23 million nursing home is effectively paying for itself? There is a $2 million bond payment this year; there should be a commensurate $2 million tax increase. There isn't. That effectively means the nursing home is in fact paying for itself. That you're also sitting on the largest surplus this county has ever seen. All those things happen because of the efforts of the people that work here. What are you going to bring to the table to continue that? It's not about whether the cost of the nursing home is $23 million or $23. What are you bringing here to your four years? If you can't make an alliance with one of the two people next to you, you might as well stay home and collect your paycheck," said Albee.

Kenney repeated several times that things will run better, run differently and will run more efficiently than when Albee was in office but did not say how she plans to accomplish that goal.

"I appreciate your lack of understanding of management, so it is impossible to go through those topics with you," said Albee.

Albee kept trying to drive home the point that while Kenney plans to make changes and cuts, she won't get far with just one vote. "Who are you going to form an alliance with?" he asked. "In order to make anything happen with three members you have to have two votes. One member cannot do anything alone. You need to form an alliance with at least one if not both to present whatever changes you think need to be made to county government in order to make it more efficient," said Albee.

Kenney, after sidestepping the questions several times, finally answered with, "I have no comment. You will see. It will come."

Kenney did admit that had she been a commissioner when it came time to vote on construction of the new nursing home, she would have voted in favor but not if the project was "this expensive."

Between January and April, there were 19 recorded votes in the commission's meeting minutes. Kenney abstained when it came time to appoint Commissioner Dorothy Solomon as vice-chairman of the commission and appoint Albee as deputy treasurer as recommended by county treasurer Jack Widmer. She voted against the window treatments, artwork and resident furniture for the new nursing home but appears to have voted in favor of all other votes of the commission including who would print the annual report, fire alarm testing at the jail and appointing Sorensen as chair of the commission.

Airing personnel issues in a public meeting also sparked comments from Albee. "There are liabilities involved with taking employees to task in public meetings. I'm not prepared to have my taxes increase to pay for foolishness by the commissioners. If it continues as it did last week, there will be significant problems."

Albee was referring to the April 27 meeting when Kenney blasted an office staff member for not providing her with documents she asked for. It turns out that the documents were a copy of the state statute regarding appointing a deputy treasurer and a copy of Albee's appointment as deputy treasurer. Sorensen said that some issues are emergencies and this cannot be considered an emergency.

Sorensen and Solomon apologized for the personnel issue being aired in public at the April 27 meeting. But then for the next five and a half minutes, Sorensen and Kenney were discussing a completely different personnel issue in the public meeting. According to Sorensen, Kenney sent an email to David Babson in response to his question why none of the three secretaries were in the office when he went in on a Friday. Kenney's response to him was that this "happens all the time and she is only one vote." Kenney said she has stopped in several times in the office and "all the time they are not there." Sorensen said that particular Friday that Babson stopped in, one was on vacation and one was out sick that day. "I think before we answer questions about why our secretaries are out of the office we need to find out why," said Sorensen. He asked that from now on, if Kenney has a problem with the office staff, she should communicate that to him and he will work with them to resolve the issues.

Other Commission business

To clarify a comment Kenney made earlier in the meeting about the nursing home "running in the red," Commissioner Sorensen said that historically the nursing home ran about $2.5 million per year in the red. Last year, it was $1 million. Sorensen said this is obviously a move in the right direction and commissioners expect even more cost savings once the new home opens. Nursing home administrator Sandy McKenzie attends commission meetings regularly and reports a full nursing home with a lengthy waiting list each time.

The second annual Farm Day will be held on the county complex June 30 with farming demonstrations, games, displays, vendors, and more. The planning committee has been working to put the finishing touches on the schedule of events that is expected to be released soon.

County commission meetings are videotaped and can be seen on the Internet at www.governmentoversite.com.

Garnett Hill
Penny Pitou
Martin Lord Osman
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