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>The job of the Bergen County Executive is to protect the county’s approximately 500,000 taxpayers.

>The job of the Bergen County Executive is to protect the county’s approximately 500,000 taxpayers.
Bergen County Executive Kathleen A. Donovan

The job of the Bergen County Executive is to protect the county’s approximately 500,000 taxpayers. Think of the taxpayers as the shareholders of a business with an annual operating budget in excess of $500 million. The shareholders entrust the executive to make certain that their money is spent wisely. They demand oversight and accountability.

To fulfill that mission I have proposed that all agencies receiving county funds be accountable, transparent and allow for appropriate oversight.

Three agencies, the Bergen County Utilities Authority, the Northwest Bergen County Sewer Authority and the Bergen County Improvement Authority are statutorily required to submit their minutes to me for review. I have already vetoed the minutes of two of these agencies citing unnecessary and excessive spending.

Other agencies will be asked to voluntarily submit to an oversight process similar to the one recently negotiated with the leadership of Bergen Community College. That process provides for the Board of Trustees meeting agendas to be submitted to the county executive 10 days in advance of the meeting and for discussion to take place over any questionable items.

If an issue in dispute cannot be resolved the item will be pulled from the agenda until an agreement can be reached. It’s that simple.

Bergen County taxpayers contribute more than 20 percent of Bergen Community’s $100 million annual operating budget. They have a right to require a level of oversight and to expect accountability and transparency. If the county were a “lender” and the college were a “borrower” the lender would demand covenants limiting the use of funds. We are simply requiring oversight.

Opponents have raised vague issues of “illegality” suggesting that the board cannot enter into a voluntary oversight process to ensure transparency and accountability. Where in the law does it say that a public agency relying on public funds to fulfill its mission cannot voluntarily be accountable? This is a bogus issue raised by individuals who undoubtedly need oversight more than most.

They also suggest that oversight and accountability will strip the college of autonomy. Well, they might be right to a limited degree. But there is a price for autonomy: you pay your own way. The college simply cannot expect to be largely funded by Bergen County taxpayers without submitting to oversight.

Academic freedom? Not an issue. It’s up to the college to set the curriculum. It’s up to the county executive to protect the taxpayers’ investment.

College Chairman E. Carter Corriston and I agree that Bergen Community has been a credit to the county and that the limited oversight we have agreed to will not in any way impact its mission.

The agreement itself is voluntary. Should the college’s Board of Trustees determine that they cannot work within the confines of transparency and accountability, they can rescind the resolution and reestablish full autonomy; less, of course, their public subsidy from the taxpayers of Bergen County

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