Platte County’s $12 million share of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) funds is the single largest distribution of federal or state aid in my time as county treasurer, and perhaps, in the history of the county. An extraordinary amount of money during an extraordinary chapter in our nation’s history. And an extraordinary moment in our county’s history to succeed or fail in confronting the greatest crisis of the era.
The CARES Act passed quickly, as opposed to the usual glacier pace of Washington and lacked the marionette strings and reams of red tape usually tied and bound to government spending. The 888-page law, at a price tag of $2 trillion, only devoted roughly 60 words to how aid to state and local governments should be spent.
The US Treasury Department provided guidance, albeit ambiguously, writing, “expenditures. incurred ‘due to’ the public health emergency means that expenditures must be used for actions taken to respond to the public health emergency. such as.medical or public health needs, . (and) providing economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to COVID-19-related business closures.”
The decision as to what is necessary and what expenditures are “due to” COVID-19 is left up to the “reasonable judgment of government officials.”
This ambiguity could infect our community’s response with waste, fraud, abuse, and judgment that is anything but reasonable. Remember: part of the same bill for health costs and economic recovery included $25 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Neither a COVID hotspot nor the trenches of front line first responders. Platte County government cannot be guilty of the same unreasonable judgment exercised in Washington.
The vaccine to immunize the public from government malfeasance is transparency. Platte County must frequently report every expenditure of CARES Act funding, in detail and with documentation. Platte County must develop its own clear plan, discussed openly and publicly, to ensure public trust and address both the public health needs and the economic damage. The consequence of not adopting such an approach will not only risk the county to penalties from the state and federal government but erode public trust.
We, now more than ever, must be a beacon of transparency and good government. Vigilant monitoring and a well-executed plan will allow citizens to decide whether the decisions of myself and other government officials were “reasonable.”
Platte County Treasurer