Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie took a step back from a recent newsletter mailed along with tag renewal notices after language in the newsletter drew the scorn of Revenue Commissioner Marilyn Wood.
In an email to Hastie and the Mobile County Commission last week, Wood expressed “how disappointed and angry” she was “in the way you are implying that I am not running my office efficienctly (sic).”
Hastie’s one-page, two-sided newsletter included an endorsement of her year-old plan to combine the duties of the license and revenue commissioners, a plan she says can save the county more than $1 million annually by consolidating duplicative departments, eliminating positions through attrition and cross-training existing employees to perform multiple roles.
Last year, Wood announced she would retire as Revenue Commissioner in October 2015. Subsequently, Hastie became an unopposed candidate for Wood’s position, running on a platform that her current role is unnecessary.
Wood took issue with a timeline on the newsletter accompanying Hastie’s plan, which suggests Wood is actually retiring in October 2014 and Hastie would actually “hold both offices (License + Revenue) until at least October 2015.”
Calling further attention to a point about “revamping the efficiency of the appraisal appeal,” Wood accused of Hastie of implying that the office of the Revenue Commissioner was mismanaged.
Wood said the newsletter was “misleading” and accused Hastie of “taking shots” at her while campaigning for the legislative bill that would be necessary to approve the consolidation.
Wood went on to be critical of Hastie’s own management style, which has included keeping the license offices closed every Wednesday.
“In the statement that you would elimiate (sic) 15 positions through attrition, your office is now closed on Wednesday because you stated that you don’t have enough employees in the License Commissioner’s office,” Wood wrote. “Employees can be cross trained yes, but how can you not fill the vacant positions when both office(s) are at [peak] times of the year.”
Wood reminded Hastie that some of the revenue commission’s appraisers are directed in their duties by the Alabama Department of Revenue and wrote that she was “angry that you have put me in a position of defendng (sic) the way I run my office.”
“If I were trying to combine the offices like you are, I would have waited until I was Revenue Commissioner,” Wood concluded.
Last weekend, Hastie said she did not proofread the newsletter before it was sent and admitted that it could be misinterpreted, but also asserted the claims “were not about [Wood].”
“Marilyn ran a great office and chose to retire,” Hastie said. “This is about me coming in and doing what I think will work. I am in no way saying it is not running efficient right now – it was never about that – it’s about combining the office and becoming more efficient as a whole.”
Hastie also noted that she obtained an Attorney General’s opinion and an independent counsel’s opinion about any potential conflicts-of-interest arising from her endorsement of the bill while she simultaneously stands to gain from the consolidation financially.
The original bill provided a new salary for the revenue commissioner that would equal to 75 percent of the combined salaries of both the license commissioner and revenue commissioner. A revised version provides for a simple $5,000 raise equal to the salary of Montgomery County’s revenue commissioner, which is about $15,000 more than Hastie earns today as license commissioner.
State ethics laws specifically prohibit elected officials from using their public time or resources for campaigning or voting on issues “materially affecting his or her financial interest.”
Dismissing the concern, Hastie said the mailer was “just a newsletter” and an extension of the platform she campaigned for as a candidate for revenue commissioner.
Hastie said the original bill was contested locally by County Commissioner Jerry Carl, who encouraged the legislature to table it for a later date. Responding, Carl said Hastie overestimated his influence in the legislature, yet he doesn’t deny his fundamental concerns with the bill.
“I don’t understand how it’s going to save us money,” Carl said. “I’ve heard numbers and all we’re doing is transferring employees from one place to the other so I don’t necessarily understand the savings. I’d like to see some numbers. I don’t want to move people around for the sake of moving people around.”
Curiously, the original bill also provided for the revenue commissioner to appoint “up to six additional persons to serve as employees of the office in any capacity.” A separate source who expressed concern about the plan suggested that provision alone would eliminate half the savings Hastie is proposing to create.
Meanwhile, Hastie said Mobile was one of only nine counties in the state to have separate license and revenue commissions and she hopes to support her cost-saving claims later this month when a study currently being undertaken by local economist Semoon Chang is complete.
If the offices do not combine, Gov. Robert Bentley would appoint a successor to the license commission.
Late Monday, Wood issued a statement reading, “Kim and I have talked and the matter has been resolved,” adding there is “no need to go into further discussion with this issue.”