Barbara Wheeler, incumbent candidate for district 7 county legislator, said during a recent interview that constituents are telling her that the growth of the new county government needs to be reigned in.
“This isn’t what they voted for,” said Wheeler in regards to the 2012 referendum to restructure the county government. “This isn’t what they thought the new government was going to be.”
Wheeler said in her past three years on the legislature, she has tried to hold the line on county spending, especially when it comes to salaries. As an example, she said she has argued strongly against raising the salary of the county sheriff during his current term, and voted earlier in the month for an amendment to the 2017 budget which rolled back a proposed 4% raise for the position.
“Our largest [union] bargaining unit didn’t get a 4% raise…How can you do that? It’s not right,” said Wheeler. “I remain very firm that elected officials should not get an increase in pay during their term.”
By comparison, Wheeler said she supported a small raise similar in size to union employee raises for Treasurer Shawn Bowerman, which only took effect at the beginning of his most recent term.
Wheeler also cited the recent creation of the position of County Highway Superintendent which she said will be filled by Paul Clayburn who had been serving as the Department of Public Works Commissioner and is close to retirement. The county recently appointed Eric Mead as the new commissioner. According to Wheeler, the new superintendent position will have the same salary as the commissioner, despite being a position subordinate to the commissioner’s position. She said the new position should pay less.
Wheeler said she would also like to look at modifying the charter such that the legislature has more say in the approval of county contracts.
“This is under the executive now, while the procurement policy was a source of contention, the charter authorizes the county executive to negotiate, sign and implement all contracts without legislative approval or even knowledge of until after the fact, committing the taxpayers to the expense,” said Wheeler.
Although the county previously adopted a procurement policy that requires legislature approval of contracts for professional services over $75,000, Wheeler said, “There is no dollar amount set in the charter other than it can’t exceed the appropriation. Of course [the executive] needs to follow the procurement policy. We worked out the procurement policy in 2014, which has a monetary limit, but it’s not embodied in the charter.”
In regards to the budget process, Wheeler said the review process needs to start later and last longer.
“By starting later, as does Fulton County, the budget officer and the legislature would have a more accurate expenditures-to-date to better estimate future needs. We would have 9 months of actual [expenditures] versus 6,” said Wheeler. “The time-line starts too early and doesn’t allow enough time for a thorough legislative review and input. It is flawed and needs to be more in line with county law. The legislative body is the purse that appropriates the money. The information is not optional yet has not been forthcoming.”
Before her three-year term as legislator, Wheeler served for two two-year terms as the fourth ward county supervisor. This year is the first time she has not received the Republican Party nomination and will instead run on her own independent line.
“I don’t tow the party line, I don’t do what I’m told, I ask way too many questions, I point out the corruption, the favors,” said Wheeler.
“I love the people I represent,” said Wheeler. “And I don’t just represent the fourth ward or seventh district, I represent all of Montgomery County.”
“I love what I’ve done in the last seven years. I’ve met so many kind and wonderful amazing people…it’s had it’s ups and downs, but it has been a lovely, beautiful, amazing seven years,” said Wheeler. “If I get the pleasure of serving three more, I will do it with honor and grace.”
Wheeler will appear on an independent line on November’s ballot and will face challengers Jeff Stark on the Democratic line, and Michael Pepe on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence party lines.