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  • Last modified 183 days ago (Jan. 28, 2021)

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Taxing all credulity

We no longer have to look to Nancy Pelosi and Congress to find tax-and-spend liberals. Marion County isn’t quite up to the level the late Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen lamented in saying, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” But we’re getting close.

Planning for a nearly half-million-dollar ambulance garage and dorm space for two attendants in Hillsboro is as much over the top as was the $2 million spent in Marion to build a bus stop for county garbage.

The proposed ambulance station would be more than twice the size of the typical Kansas residence, and we fear a hidden agenda might be an attempt to move offices like the health department out of the county seat.

Commissioners, two of whom now represent districts dominated by Hillsboro, are talking about making the station even bigger, all as part of some long-term project.

We’re sorry, but the county hasn’t exactly proved itself expert in anticipating long- or even short-term needs.

Why else would it need to spend $114,800 last week to completely replace a video surveillance system in a county jail that opened less than 10 years ago?

This wasn’t the first thing about the new jail that has had to be replaced. Earlier, a fancy control system for its heating and air conditioning proved either malfunctioning or too complex for employees to understand. Then there’s all the money spent on a so-called trunked radio system that doesn’t work inside buildings or in key areas of the county, or the dispute over the supposed need for a taller radio tower, for which the new system had no need.

Rural residents have long been concerned that the county’s strategy for dealing with ruts in roads has been to pour bags of taxpayer money into the ruts, then road-grade the cash off into a ditch. It’s not just the road and bridge department that has a reputation for not always being great stewards of taxpayer money.

Sheriff Rob Craft may have been trying to apologize — and shift blame to former commissioner Dianne Novak — when he spoke Monday about why he had refused to appear before commissioners, citing that they had a widely known history of being unprofessional and confrontational.

Perhaps commissioners needed to channel a bit of Novak during that meeting and question his surveillance expenditure.

We could be wrong, of course, but it appears to be little more than a transparent attempt to shift blame for an inmate death attributable not to lack of such a system but rather to jail employees failing to follow booking and monitoring procedures.

All of this plus periodic sniping by other commissioners at other elected officials, along with seemingly roughshod and uncaring behavior by some appointed officers, has done much to solidify a view that Marion County government, top to bottom, tends to be both spendthrift and dysfunctional.

It’s not as if county government is the only sometimes dysfunctional game in town. A simmering dispute between the City of Marion and the Marion-Florence school district over pool expenditures is yet another example of counterproductive efforts.

We have no idea whether this dispute was the issue that prompted a secret session of city council members Monday, but we know of no other “business,” as the mayor phrased it, currently involved in any situation with the city that might require the city attorney to ask for “negotiation.”

If there is such a situation, why don’t we citizens have a right to know at least the issues involved? Details about specific legal strategies to be employed might well be something that needs to be discussed privately, so as not to give the other side an advantage. But the mere existence of a dispute doesn’t seem to be covered by the attorney-client privilege mantra so frequently chanted by local elected bodies in taking their meetings behind closed door.

Will we get to a point at which all government business will be conducted with a lawyer present so as to justify completely eliminating all public scrutiny?

And why is it — if this truly is a city vs. schools dispute — that the public doesn’t have a right to know both sides of the matter? We’re paying for both. Why should we be allowed access to neither?

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Jan. 28, 2021

 

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