A group of protestors gathered outside the Cleveland County Courthouse Monday afternoon to protest a proposed resolution to dissolve the Cleveland County Budget Board, citing its impact on local budgeting.
The budget board is a group of eight elected officials from around the county. If dissolved, the budget decisions will be made by a group of appointed officials, according to a Norman Transcript article. The resolution is set to be a discussion item and possible action item on the agenda for the Cleveland County Board of Commissioners Monday meeting at 1 p.m.
“This is a big change in the process by which the county does budgeting, and I think big changes require extensive community discussion and input to justify why it is going to be done, and why the change will be an improvement for accountability and transparency,” Cynthia Rogers, an OU economics professor, member of the Oklahoma Incentives Evaluation Commission and organizer of the protest, said. “It's a very important issue that the public should be informed about and also be consulted about. It's our money. It's how our money gets spent. Its budgets are your priorities.”
Rogers said removing the budget board without hearing from the public would be a “callous disregard” of the integrity of public budgeting.
“It's not the way to build trust, it's not a way to engage the community. Commissioners are supposed to be representatives of the county and everybody that lives in the county,” Rogers said. “I just feel like that's a disrespect to voters and taxpayers.”
The budget board was originally formed to add budget oversight after county commissioners were charged with financial crimes in 1981, according to the Norman Transcript.
Johnney Jones, a protest attendee, said he is concerned about a lack of accountability if the resolution gets passed.
“I'm concerned about the fact that they're going to dissolve the budget board when that's additional oversight over the money and they're wanting to change it to a three-person committee over the budget,” Jones said. “It doesn't make a lot of sense in terms of transparency and oversight.”
Rogers also said the resolution seems to be a step back in gaining people’s trust in the county.
“You go from five of the people needed to approve a budget to the tune of three. Imagine two people getting to decide on the budget for the whole county,” Rogers said. “That seems to go in the wrong direction of accountability and trends in the wrong direction.”