Rousseau is swing vote on policy power flip


An ongoing discussion over how to address certain county policies and procedures — and who gets to approve them — was settled for now by a vote of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners at its Oct. 22 regular meeting.

The board approved on a 3-to-2 vote Commissioner Steve Brown’s motion that all amended and newly created policies go before the board for a vote in a public meeting. Chairman Charles Oddo and Commissioner David Barlow voted against the change.

Commissioner Charles Rousseau again provided the swing vote that determined the issue, but this time he voted against Oddo and Barlow.

This issue has been brought up repeatedly by Brown in recent months, as he was at odds with the way certain decisions he thought should be made by the commissioners were being made instead by County Manager Steve Rapson and his staff.

Barlow, in an impassioned defense of Rapson’s integrity, charged that Brown was creating a controversy where one did not exist, saying that Brown was doing it simply because he was no longer chairman. Brown pointed out that he had complained about this issue during his tenure as chairman and had the documentation to prove it.

This item had been tabled at the Sept. 10 board meeting, and Brown said the wording of his proposal had been changed since then. Specifically, he said the statement, “Staff recommends any new policies and procedures go before the board for its consideration and approval,” had been removed from the proposal.

“I was shocked when I saw the new version of this tabled agenda item which is supposed to be about changing the protocol on creating and amending county policies and procedures,” Brown stated. “This looks like a ‘bait-and-switch’ deal where the title of the agenda item remained the same, but the action of changing the protocol was hijacked and replaced with an amendment giving guidance on how to prepare a meeting agenda.”

Previously the board had approved a staff request to delegate authority to the county manager, human resources director and chief financial officer to amend certain policies pertaining to those departments. The board had also authorized Rapson “to sign properly procured documents that are less than $200,000 and budgeted.”

Brown said his position on the board making these decisions is shared by the county’s auditors, and he cited a few statements from their December 2014 report to back that up. “If you don’t want to listen to me, please listen to our auditors,” he said.

Barlow responded that he has a problem with the “cloud of suspicion” over Rapson being created by the discussion. He said no one on the board can “carry his briefcase” when it comes to Rapson’s performance as county administrator and that Brown, for no other reason than the fact that he is no longer chairman, “is creating controversy where there was no controversy when he was chairman.”

Ognio immediately jumped into the discussion at that point, saying it has nothing to do with Rapson and that he is doing a great job. “I just think it’s time we re-assume our duties and do what we need to do,” he said.

At one point Brown began, “The problem is —” and Barlow interjected, “We don’t have a problem!”

Brown continued, “If you have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Fayette County, you’d better have control over those policies, and you’d better do it in a public meeting with a public vote where the public can comment on it. What’s next? Are we going to give up our budgeting authority? If we don’t vote, will it just pass? Where do you draw the line?”

Democrat Rousseau, the newest commissioner, split with Oddo and Barlow over Brown’s push for the board to take back its prerogative to make policy changes and additions. Previously County Manager Rapson had been delegated the duty of revising and writing new county policies.

Brown argued that was too much power for a contract employee to have, to the extent that Rapson was writing policies that Brown said governed the board itself.

Barlow and Oddo disagreed, but were on the wrong side of the majority voter Thursday night.

Barlow finally called for the vote, in which Ognio and Rousseau raised their hands in favor of Brown’s motion. It passed 3-2.