Ron Beaty has spent many years running for public office in Barnstable County. Last week he was elected County Commissioner. Mr. Beaty graciously agreed to sit for a "virtual interview" with Cape Cod Today.
As with all of our virtual interviews, the guest receives a list of questions from our editors and responds to them via email. Cape Cod Today publishes the guest's Q&A exactly as submitted - no editing for space, no re-sequencing of questions and no editorial remarks. The virtual interview is a wonderful opportunity for guests to tell their story in their own words, with no limits on time or column space.
Virtual Interview with County Commissioner-Elect Ron Beaty
- How does it feel to win a seat on the County Commission?
For me individually, there appear to be two main feelings involved here. The first I can only describe as redemption. The second may be described as having a large amount of public responsibility placed upon your shoulders. Additionally, I am discovering that there is a huge amount of preliminary work involved with preparation of the Annual County Budget, even at this early stage. This will continue for months.
- You said during the election that Barnstable County government does not need to be reorganized but it needed new eyes on the budget. What works well and what does not work well in our county government?
I actually said something a bit different. In case, the current structure of our Barnstable County Government as outlined within the content of the County Home Rule Charter works just fine as it was meant to. It is a bi-cameral structure with two main branches, a legislative branch which is the Assembly of Delegates, and an executive branch which is the Board of County Commissioners. The Assembly of Delegates is composed of 15 representatives from each of the Cape Cod towns, and it employs a weighted voting system that is proportional to the population size of each particular town. The Delegates are non-partisan and elected every two years. The three County Commissioners are politically partisan, and elected at-large from across Cape Cod for staggered four year terms.
Most problems during that last ten years have resulted from the less-than-stellar decisions of people that have been elected into the respective political positions, not from the County governmental structure. The present structure provides for a separation of powers, an well as a system of "checks and balances." Though this may result in some political friction from time to time, it helps to ensure that no one person or special interest group can gain too much power or influence upon the decisions or activities of the County.
With that said, I believe that it is safe to say that the overall structure itself works well, but that it likely is some specific programs and services which might not be working very efficiently or effectively.
An investigation conducted by the State Auditor last Spring into various Barnstable County dealings, contracts, agreements and records revealed a glaring dearth of transparency, lack of accountability and even illegal practices. Long-term property leases were not executed in accordance with Massachusetts State Law, revenue from the lease of the County owned telecommunications tower was not being properly collected for many years, squatters were occupying space in the Old Jail building without paying rent. This is only the tip of the iceberg as the list of problematic arrangements is fairly extensive.
To be honest, there needs to be a top-down and bottom-up review of all County departments, programs and services on the one hand as well as all County committees, boards and/or commissions on the other. Once this review is achieved, then we will be able to definitively list all of the ones which are working well, the ones that are not, and then make the necessary changes to improve the ones not performing up to par, and if necessary eliminate those that have become outdated or redundant. Part of the general problem has been that over the years many facets of County Government have been put into place in a sort of meandering patchwork fashion rather than following a clear logical outline and plan.
At this stage of things, other than the mess uncovered by the State Auditor, I am able to make only a few specific observations about some of the components of County government that do work well, and a few that are not all that effective.
The County Dredge is an Enterprise Account grounded Service and program which is self-sustaining in that it pays for itself and provides a valuable service to Cape towns by dredging their respective harbors and waterways. The County Septic Revolving Loan Program is also self-sustaining affordable funding directly to Cape Cod residents to assist with the construction, repair or replacement of Title 5 Septic Systems.
The Cape and Islands License Plate Program administered by the Cape Cod Economic Development Council is an example of a County program that has the potential to do a lot of good, but seems to have gone astray in my opinion. It takes in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue via fees collected from the sale of Cape Cod and Islands license plates. The problem is those funds have been given out annually in the form of grants to various non-profits and the Cape Cod Commission. In the case of the Commission, the funds have mainly been employed to propagate a seemingly endless project called the Comprehensive Economic Development Study or CEDS. This has been going on for nearly 8 years at a cost of at least $2 1/2 Million Dollars at little apparent direct benefit to Cape Cod towns or residents. Those funds should now instead be redirected to provide grants directly to new business start-ups, or existing businesses desiring to expand so that job creation will be facilitated.
The Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative is a 11 year old program which appears to have suffered from something called "mission drift" in that it has accomplished its original purpose, but has become redundant with other similar County, State and federal programs plus has wandered into other areas out of the realm of its purpose. At this stage, it needs to be streamlined and merged with the County Health Department at substantial cost savings. This would include the elimination of the unnecessary $75,000 part-time Executive Director position.
With regard to the Cape Light Compact dilemma, that needs to be worked out by lawyers. It is an entity which is difficult to describe other than it is a formal partnership between the towns of the Cape and Islands and the County. It is an energy conservation and advocacy organization funded by a surcharge to the electric bill of Cape and Islands residents and businesses. The County acts as the fiscal agent to Cape Light Compact, but is has been discovered that the agreement is not legal under state law. The problem is presently be worked on by lawyers for the County and Cape Light Compact.
- How will you address your concerns about the County budget? What are the areas where we might have waste or missed opportunities? Are there areas of County government that need more funding than they receive now?
It is premature to reply to these particular inquiries. All of these questions can only realistically be answered definitively during the Proposed Fiscal Year 2018 County Budget Hearing and Review Process which will begin in January and continue for several months. It is intense and decisive process. Some of the aforementioned changes and adjustments will likely be made during this process.
- Can you comment about the Town of Barnstable’s lawsuit against the County concerning the Fire Academy’s contamination that appears to be affecting Hyannis’ water supply?
Since I am not yet privy to the exact details of the lawsuit and relevant negotiations, my comments quite limited. What I can say is that in my opinion the lawsuit by the Town of Barnstable against Barnstable County was unnecessary and a big waste of taxpayer dollars. Funds expended on lawyers could instead have be employed in helping to mitigate the groundwater contamination in the impacted area. It should also be noted that the County has been proactive all along with cleaning up the areas of its responsibility at the Fire and Rescue Training Academy from the time that the problem was discovered. The Town of Barnstable needs to drop the lawsuit immediately before it causes irreparable harm to County-Municipal relations to the detriment of Cape Cod residents and taxpayers.
- During the election you mentioned your goal of rolling back the County deed transfer tax. How will you go about doing that? How much of a rollback do you anticipate? How is a change made to the transfer tax amount?
To begin, I plan to have a discussion item placed onto the County Commissioners' Meeting Agenda at the earliest opportunity. I will eventually seek a rollback equivalent to the tax increase that was approved and implemented earlier in 2016. The objective will be to put the amount of tax back to its previously lower level. A change to the transfer tax also known as the Deeds Excise Tax is achieved by the introduction of a proposed County ordinance, then having it voted upon a approved by both the County Commissioners and the Assembly of Delegates.
- During the campaign you shared concerns about both the Cape Light Compact and the Cape Cod Commission. Now that you’re a County Commissioner, how will you address those concerns?
The Cape Light Compact portion of this question has been already addressed as much as it can for the time being. However, I will attend some of their meetings and discuss the problems already outlined with the relevant parties to see what the best solution and outcome will be.
With regard to the Cape Cod Commission, I have politely requested that their staff provide me with a briefing as their earliest convenience relative to all present ongoing Commission projects and/or activities. This request was made on the day of the election, but unfortunately nobody from the Cape Cod Commission has acknowledged or responded to said request. The request will be repeated again, and if it continues to be ignored then once I am officially sworn in as a County Commissioner in January, I shall see what can be done to appropriately address the apparent problem in communication with the Cape Cod Commission. Once the briefing is finally provided, then I will make any relevant determinations at that point in time.
-The election has given Republicans a two to one majority on the County Commission. How will that shift change the way the County does its business?
It is my belief that the shift to Republican control will definitely make the County much more transparent, accountable and fiscally responsible in all ways possible. Let's face it, it was a mess as a result of years of neglect and bad decisions. It will take some time to put things back on track, downsize County government, and make it an overall effective, efficient and productive regional government entity. With County Commissioner Leo Cakounes as our new Chairman beginning next year, and me as his wing-man, this will happen, period.
-In conclusion, what message do you wish to share with your constituents as their newest County Commissioner?
First, I feel that I must share a somewhat disturbing realization that I recently have come to. It seems that at least some aspects of Barnstable County Government appear to be doing things to simply propagate and justify the bureaucratic existence of some aspects of the County without any real benefit to the public. Yes, it is only a part of what is going on, but it seems to be there nonetheless. In order to specifically describe it and discover how culturally ingrained this phenomena is will take time, after I am formally installed as a County Commissioner. It will then be dealt with as needed.
Though I have covered a good amount of Barnstable County Government does, and a few of its departments, programs and services, there are actually many more departments, services and programs than I have been able to cover it this point in time. If anyone has questions, they may contact for any follow up inquiries in January.
Other than that, all I would like to say to my constituents is thank you very much for bestowing this honor to serve as your new County Commissioner upon me. I work for you the voters, taxpayers, and the public at large. Once officially sworn in, I will perform the duties of the position to the utmost of my ability, so help me God.
End of Virtual Interview
Ron Beaty was a strong voice for change during this fall's County Commissioner race. He has a rich agenda to pursue and appears ready to start on Day One. The editors of Cape Cod Today wish him the very best and look forward to seeing what he accomplishes in office.