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County Caves to Court Clerk Gail Wadsworth’s Demand for Bigger Staff and Budget

| August 25, 2010

flagler county courthouse gail wadsworth

Competing deities. (© FlaglerLive)

When a generally voiceless segment of the community asked for its gym and community center to stay open next year for the same $120,000 the county had paid this year, the county cut the budget to $90,000 and cautioned that absent alternatives, that funding will gradually decline over the next few years. That’s the Carver Gym story so far this summer, one of the county’s most contentious budget issues.

When a clerk of court goes before the commission and asks for money that’s not in the budget, even though the county told all government agencies not to increase their budgets or staffs next year, she gets her way. It so happens that the extra money she got—the money not in the budget—is $120,000.

Welcome to Flagler County politics, the old fashioned way.

Physically, Gail Wadsworth, the Flagler County Clerk of Court, isn’t an imposing person. Politically, she looms, or aspires to loom, slightly larger than the colossal county courthouse built in part to her specifications in 2007. The 136,426-square-foot building is across a ditch from the equally ostentatious county administration building built at the same time, part of a government complex that cost taxpayers $65 million, back when revenue was rolling in and growth looked eternal. Then the housing bubble burst and local governments started cutting budgets and staff, and raising taxes. It makes for an unhappy mix at budget time.

The latest encounter between Wadsworth and the County Commission, during a budget workshop earlier today, was one such time. Wadsworth wanted more money than what the county was budgeting, so she could hire more staff and buy more equipment. Commissioners were resistant. The commission, which approves all county budgets—including those of the constitutional officers such as the sheriff and the clerk of court, but not the school board—asked all agencies to maintain “level budgets” next year—no dollar increases, no staff increases.

That’s been holding true for the tax collector, the sheriff, the property appraiser and the county itself (in 2007, the county had 346 positions. It has 287 this year. Its proposed budget calls for the same number next year).

It looked like it was going to hold true for the clerk of court, whose original budget submission called for 28 positions next year, same as the current year. (That’s down 10 positions from 2007). But in the end, Wadsworth got half what she wanted, at a cost of about $120,000.The county doesn’t have the money in its budget. It’ll have to come out of reserves, or from cuts yet to be determined.

When budget workshops began last month, however, the clerk had an amendment for the commission. Wadsworth was calling for three additional positions, and extra capital funding for computers, printers and the like. Equipment ages, she explained. And the extra positions are necessary to take care of accounting paperwork generated by the county, not by the clerk’s court duties.

The clerk is responsible for paying the county’s bills, and therefore accounting for them to the penny. For a few years, county and clerk staffs have been at odds over the handling of that paperwork, with one side’s procedures out of sync with the other’s. Commissioners want those procedures smoothed out. The two administrative staffs have been talking about doing just that, but it’s still not done. Wadsworth needs extra help dealing with the work. Commissioner Alan Peterson—the same commissioner who proposed reducing Carver Gym’s budget—was adamantly against enabling that.

“If we fund this request, it’s going to be life as usual, and we’re going to be passing paper back and forth between the two buildings for a long period of time,” Peterson told Wadsworth and fellow commissioners during a pivotal moment in the discussion. “So I say don’t fund this request and force corrective action.”

“Commissioner,” Wadsworth said, pausing a long time, “I really hope you don’t choose to do it that way.” She described her needs as resulting in large part from accounting requirements to keep the county’s accounts in order. “And it isn’t just the catching that we have to do. We need another accountant to work with Helena Alvez our internal auditor who prepares your financial statements. We need that one larger dollar person, and we need staff in finance, so when our auditors come through they won’t say ‘this is all you have doing all this work?’, which they have done. We need the supporting people to support the functions we do for you. Whether or not you think it all comes from your side, it is very important to my office that what we present to the public, in your name, called your financial statements, are squeaky clean.”

“Are you saying you cut too deeply last year?” Peterson asked.

“Yes, I am,” Wadsworth replied.

After a little more discussion, Peterson gave in. He proposed granting Wadsworth her extra accountant, for $90,000 to $95,000 (that’s including the salaried position’s benefits package), and $25,000 in technological improvements, even though he’d just said that “one of the burrs that get under my saddle at times is computer replacement that is quote obsolete because it’s technically obsolete but not functionally obsolete.”

And Wadsworth got this from Abbott: “There comes a point when enough is enough. We need to decide something. There’s five of us here that are going to decide whether you need them or not. I would rather err on the point of having too many people. And then we’ll catch it up later on.” The “we” was slightly presumptive, since Abbott was speaking a day after he was defeated at the polls.

Wadsworth exhaled. “I don’t want to give an inch,” she told Peterson, “but I would be ecstatic” for the extra funding, she said, then turned her compromise into a condition: “In hopes that next year when I make a budget request you’ll let me come up that much more again.”

Other constitutional officers will remember their Wadsworth playbooks next time they go before the commission with budget amendments.

Peterson noted that Wadsworth’s staffing is still lower than what it was two years ago. Nevertheless, Commissioners Barbara Revels and Milissa Holland weren’t thrilled by what had just happened. “But Allen,” Revels said, “all levels of government have shrunk.”

“I disagree with the increases as we’ve discussed, that we were looking for all the constitutionals to come in with level funding,” Revels, who’s also the county’s delegated commissioner to find a solution for Carver Gym, said. “Every one of our departments have just sliced and cut and come forward as best they could. Everybody is working to exhaustion within county government as well. We had another constitutional officer who came in and wanted to put in the budget for unemployment because she’s got people that are stressed and are maybe going to quit. Maybe. I understand being overworked. I’m a person in my own business, I have overworked myself six days a week for 30 years, so I know what it means to work your tail off.” She added, “We’ve said we were going to ask for level funding and that’s what we’ve moved forward with.”

Wadsworth claimed no one had told her.

Holland reiterated what she’s said before: the county’s high unemployment rate means the hurt is spreading, and arguing against making government budgets bigger. But by then the issue was settled. Wadsworth had her majority—and her budget increase.

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16 Responses for “County Caves to Court Clerk Gail Wadsworth’s Demand for Bigger Staff and Budget”

  1. upset says:

    Gail Wadsworth where are you coming from. Are you related to Obama. Bigger government here in Flagler County. Are you crazy? With the unemployment at more than 15% and you want an increase in your budget and increase your staff. I think we need a royal flush in this county as we do in Washington.

  2. Dorothea says:

    Gail Wadsworth, the reigning queen and architect of the potato palace and new courthouse, bankrupted her subjects building her oversized edifices. Now her subjects, the taxpayers of Flagler County, have to be taxed again to fill her new castle with an abundance of employees, while these same taxpayers can’t even afford to pay for her empty castle.

    As for the County Commissioners who voted to give the queen whatever she demands: Peterson, like most Republicans, was elected because he had the reputation of chief penny-pincher and bean counter, but when it comes down to reality, he talks and talks fiscal repsonsibility, but spends and spends. Commissioner Abbott, Wadsworth’s good buddy, could care less. He’s on his way out. Hanns, well I’ll never understand how he gets elected year after year.

  3. Charlie says:

    The big question isn’t what we have done so far on this year” budget,, but what will we do NEXT year, if predictions by knowledgeable people are true.. that property values will drop yet another 10%. from this year. More spending will be necessay, unless we truly address, the budgeting process , as it exists today. It is antiquated, and based upon, getting MORE assessed values each year, not a down economy. We need to start ,and create savings during this year, and carry them through to next year, or another tax increase will be coming, just to maintain “the status quo” ..

  4. Dorothea says:

    Charlie, the budget they are working on right now IS for next year. If you want to change the process, you will have to talk to your state politicians, or maybe not vote for the same state representative you had last year come November. In the meantime, the county needs to learn how to live with what they have, not what they wish they had.

  5. Imagine says:

    And to think we had a solution to this 2 years ago. Shame on the voters.

  6. absent says:

    I am not much into politics but I will be the first to tell you she didn’t get my vote 2 years ago. I don’t like the thought of having someone who is not a CERTIFIED Public Accountant handling the county financial statements. Thats just me.

  7. Rick G says:

    You don’t need to be a CPA to be the Clerk of Court but you do need one on staff. It sounds like Ms. Wadsworth was a little clumsy in putting together her budget. Its not an easy thing to do but with her experience as Clerk it should be done in a more professional manner.

  8. Liana G says:

    Well an increase in staff = job creation. Maybe we need more gov’t jobs especially since the private sector doesn’t seem in a position to deliver. And if people continue to move in search for jobs then it would mean increase taxes for those who remain. And you have to admit gov’t jobs ARE CUSHY. More gov’t jobs please!

  9. Dorothea says:

    To Rick, who mildly says that the Clerk of Court should put together her budget in a more professional manner.

    Just a bit unprofessional, Rick? Since when is the millions of dollars in cost over-runs produced by Ms. Wadsworth just a a mite unprofessional? Did you ever hear Commissioner Peterson when he was on the Palm Coast city council excoriating someone, in his mild, bland New England accent, over a few dollars? Now Peterson is on the county commission and he wants to know about bottled water for a few thousand dollars, but forgets to ask about millions of other dollars paid out by the sheriff’s department. Now, Wadsworth asks for more money than allotted in her budget, and Peterson gives her the nod with barely a peep. I guess if you favor someone’s politics, it just a matter of a little lack of professionalism.

    As for the difficulty of producing a budget, get real Rick. A competent Constitutional Officer has employees in their department that produce a budget. Wadsworth said she wasn’t aware of the budget constraints for next year’s budget process. She probably either didn’t know or didn’t care because some members of the county commission lets her do whatever she wants anyway.

    Just exactly how much of this BS will the citizens of Flagler County stand for before they vote these hacks out of office?

  10. kmedley says:

    Wadsworth’s budget woes go back before this latest round. It began with the layoff of the 10 clerks. She claimed the revenues were decreasing; however, at the same time, she had hired two directors, overlooking competant staff members that should have been promoted to those positions. Both position are no more, Director of Courtside and Director of Records keeping. The gentleman that held the records director job participated in online trading during office hours. I don’t think I ever saw him work. The salaries for these positions were extreme. After the 10, came another 5, if memory serves. The Chief Deput Clerk position had not been filled until recently. Couldn’t this appointment have waited? This was the job held by the late Phil Pulliam. Why the need to fill this position now? She let her IT team go and I believe she has replaced them with a new team, but at what cost? The BOCC once again has failed to look at the Clerk’s actions. Isn’t this how the audit came to be in the first place?

  11. Charlie says:

    Dorothea, Yes I know what they are working on today is for next fiscal year, but what I was trying to say was, that this budget is now just about approved, But next fiscal year, the Tax appraiser has said assessed values , will go down another 10%, necessitating yet another cut. The State does not tell the County how they must budget, other than the budget must offset expenses, by revenue, or a balance one..The time to look for cuts are today.. creating better effeciencies internally: not something they are good at. There are no “standards of performance ” expected, infact I asked the head of human resources, when the last termination for poor perfomance occurred, and he could not say one ever occurred. We must come up with a better way, but until we get new minded people in place it will not happen ….Turnover must occur to bring in new ideas.

  12. Dorothea says:

    Charlie, the clerk of court does her own hiring and firing, which she apparently does frequently. So if you approve of frequent turnover, Gail is your gal.

    Salaries for constitutional officers, like the clerk of court, and for county commissioners are set by the state, not at the local level. The county commissioners are supposed to provide oversight of the constituional officer’s budgets, as mandated by the state. In Flagler County, however, the county commissioners have over the years acted as rubber stamps for the constitutional officers and approved whatever budgets come their way.

    The only time I have seen a concerted effort to block budget requests are those requests made by the current supervisor of elections, who is not on their political insider list. So in the case of the supervisor of elections, I’m not even sure if the commissioners are acting in the best interest of the taxpayers or just reacting to a political outsider trying to get a bigger piece of the pie.

  13. NOT OUT OF THE WOODS says:

    What rock are these people hiding under…all of them?
    They should feel lucky that they all have a job and forget about using reserve funds!
    The reserve funds have a much different function. And who is running the show…the tail or the dog???

  14. over it says:

    Not out of the woods: You are close. It’s not the dog or the tail, but it is pretty close to the area right around the base of the tail. You can tell by all the hot smelly gas that is being let go. Go to the next county meeting and take a whiff.

  15. says:

    wadsworth would not have what she has now if it was not for the money being sent down here from the northern states.

  16. starfyre says:

    we need bigger government -i pray for it

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