Beside the Point – County officials should tread carefully working in the dark

Opinion

It’s not supposed to work like this.

I find myself perplexed these past few weeks about the functionality of our county officials.

I’m extremely confused about the bizarre moving of the Lee County Health Department from their current leased space to the North Lee County office buildings. Lee County Attorney Ross Braden advised the LCHD staff to relocate temporarily and said he hoped more information would be available next week.

The timing is crazy considering the LCHD is looking to county voters to pass a referendum to construct a new $2.6 million operations-ready facility west of the current Lee County Jail on May 2, a mere nine days away.

Braden and other county officials say that has nothing to do with this, it’s just really bad timing. Let’s take that at face value, but look at the issue closer.

The LCHD obviously needed a legal opinion from the top legal officer in the county and he gave his advice, which they took. But why did they need a legal opinion? Personally, it sounds like a lease issue. I’ve never understood why the LCHD is in a lease that requires them to absorb maintenance costs on issues like furnaces in a building they don’t own. I certainly wouldn’t sign a rental agreement if the landlord said those kind of repairs were on my dime.

But as I’ve run this over and over in my mind and spoke on background with lots of people close to the situation, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t really care why they moved. I’m not bright enough to see an advantage in the election for moving to the county building other than creating an image of ‘it’s not working out’ in the current building. Not to mention the large “Vote Here” sign now in front of the county building. What is a bigger concern is why the public isn’t entitled to that information?

Iowa’s Sunshine laws are geared toward keeping most of the work of public bodies and officials in front of the public and not done with a disregard for their right to know most of what is going on. But again, my instincts are that this IS something else and an issue that just happened, fortuitous or not for Braden and the LCHD, both of whom are on the ballot May 2.

I tried to reach AgeMark, the company that owns the building from which LCHD leases space. Obviously no one returned that call. None of these people or agencies, aside from AgeMark, are immune from conducting business in a fashion that is consumable by the public as a whole.

Consumable being the key word. In my time in Fort Madison media, which is more than just the past 15 months, most public bodies do their best to only conduct business outside of public view when it is necessary to protect privacy or not to tip their hands in a legal battle. But the public has the responsibility to stay informed of what’s going on. Public meeting notices are posted on our website and social media outlets and in local papers.  Not knowing the speed limit doesn’t excuse you from paying the fine. It was posted. If you didn’t know…you didn’t read.

This is at the heart of a recent Lee County Conservation board’s decision to not hire Rick Tebbs, a local conservation department employee who was clearly, according to comments made in a recent Pen City Current article, being groomed to take over the position. When Tebbs didn’t get the gig, more than 30 people descended on the board’s meeting in April to criticize the board for not hiring Tebbs.

The Daily Democrat called for the ouster of all the board members except for Sandra Fullhart-Snyer who voted for Tebbs. Personally, I think that’s a knee jerk reaction and has a huge chilling effect on John Q. Public’s ambition to serve on boards. However the behavior of most of the board in not reading submitted letters of support for Tebbs is a poor performance on their part to be sure. And shows that maybe the handwriting was already on the wall, so to speak.

Lee County Supervisor Don Hunold said at last week’s supervisor meeting that the board made the best decision for the county, “end of story”. Maybe… but for many on the board and for those in attendance…maybe not.

I’m not naive to the fact that a lot of public business is done over a cup of coffee or a sandwich, but the message to the elected and appointed officials is this… It should never ever be about what you want, but what we need.

You should be going about your responsibilities always with a nod toward keeping the public informed.

But that’s Beside the Point.

 

 

About Chuck Vandenberg 5257 Articles
Pen City Current and pencitycurrent.com are products of Market Street Publishing, LLC, a multi-platform media company delivering hyper-local news, sports and advertising information to Fort Madison, IA and surrounding communities.

1 Comment

  1. Any Advice on what the residents of Lee County can do about the negligence of the present Board of Directors for LCCB and the decision that have made regarding the hiring of Nathan Unsworth over our own native Rick Tebbs? The unfairness is overwhelming.

Leave a Reply