Better Judgement

Have you ever wondered what the people in decision making positions are thinking? Personally, I have been scratching my head for a couple of weeks and I must admit that all that head scratching has been for nothing. I am still confused. September brought some of the strangest decision making that I have seen in a long time. Mind you, I have certainly encountered worse but I really thought that we were on a track to more reasonable, thoughtful decisions in Jefferson County. I suppose that was just a wish.

Early on in the month found the Jefferson County Commission declining to purchase the Shular Building in downtown Dandridge. It was proposed to be used as a combination Mayor/Finance Office. The back and forth over the decision to purchase or pass was extensive. In the end, it really came down to a tens of thousands of dollars divide. The yeas and nays were nearly evenly divided but all that really separated them was about $50,000 dollars on a proposed $900,000 purchase. Yet, no one offered to start negotiations to find the sweet spot that all could live with. The County is about to pour good money after bad into the finance office for ADA upgrades and to revamp what really needs to be shelled out and reworked from the inside out. The Mayor’s Office is stuck in a hole that offers no privacy and is taking up space that could be used by the County Clerk to alleviate some of the pressure in his office. Is the Shular Building perfect? Nothing is perfect. But, it is doable. For the right price. What is the right price? The right price is whatever number that 11 commissioners can live with and I believe that is closer than you might think to the last motion offered at $900,000. Now as crazy as that sounds, it isn’t the craziest thing that the County Commission did in September. In that very same meeting that they stubbornly would not meet in the middle on a $900,000 proposal, they unanimously supported an $11 million dollar debt for a County nursing home expansion in White Pine. Is the expansion a good idea? On the surface is sounds fine and we do have an exceptional County nursing home, but the kicker is that not one Commission even asked a question at the voting meeting about incurring such a debt. Although the debt is slotted to be paid by the Nursing Home, it is still County debt and we, the people, are still responsible for that $11 million dollar debt. The debt is spread out over 30 years, which is outside the box of how we generally handle our debt. It will be carried against us for a really long time and could impact our financial rating because we already have a higher debt per capita than average. I am not saying that they should have denied the $11 million dollar request. What I am saying is that there were issues with the request that should have at least garnered a serious discussion. $900,000 we draw the line. $11 million, not even a discussion. We certainly walk a wobbly line in Jefferson County.

But least we think the County Commission is the only one making strange decisions, the Department of Education had its own wobbly line. Most are aware that a prisoner escaped from the Bus Garage a few weeks ago and many are aware that the mechanics ( all four) that work at the Bus Garage and drive buses in their off hours were treated pretty poorly during this whole debacle. Why on earth do we still have school system employees over seeing prisoners? Have we not, yet, learned our lesson? And why are we punishing mechanics for a prisoners’ decision to break and run? These are just overworked, underpaid guys that are doing the best they can to keep up with a fleet of buses and school system vehicles. Give them a break. Yes, they are back to work and received partial back pay but the whole situation was ridiculous. Mechanics are not guards. The very fact that they would be responsible for a prisoner is irresponsible on the part of the school system. To punish them with a deduction in pay is beyond the bar. Simple fact folks, prisoners don’t belong around the school system in any shape form or fashion. Yes. The prisoner was at the bus garage. The bus garage sits within walking distance of two schools. We expect our mechanics to manage prisoners and question their judgment and actions when a prisoner escapes. I question the judgment in having a mechanic oversee a prisoner and in having a prisoner in the vicinity of schools. Then, we punish them when they can’t do the job they were hired to do ( mechanic) and do the job they were not hired to do ( prison guard). Wobbly, Wobbly line.

My hope is that October brings about better judgment, serious questions and responsible management. Decision makers always walk the line and no one expects perfection. But, when the line starts to look like a road trip up English Mountain, it may be time to reassess our decision making process. Can’t blame everything on the heat. Some decisions you just have to own.

Source: K. Depew, News Director