Your Opinion: County officials act irresponsibly

Dear Editor:

Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger on Dec. 26 appearing on his Sunday morning talk show passionately advocated the need for all the usual conservative targets to accept personal responsibility.

On Dec. 12, the News Tribune did a piece on the “surtax mess.” I especially noticed when and how it was discovered. A county administrator, Dale Gibler, revealed the problem in 2009 to Collector Larry Vincent. However, Blair Oaks had made inquiries in 2007, 2008 and 2009 about the amounts they were receiving; but they asked the wrong person, Vincent, the wrong question. The County Clerk determines the figures using the formula. Remember, they didn’t ask the right person the right question.

In March 2010, County Auditor Jim LePage reported to the commission that costs for the new jail would exceed funding by an annual shortfall of $1 million from the half-cent sales tax revenue allocated for 15 years. LePage stated, “They (the county commission) didn’t realize that there’s only so much money to work with and we have to stay within that.” Ellinger responded that the economy hadn’t produced the expected income. In November the commission and Sheriff Greg White agreed to nine new hires for the jail opening, bringing the staff up from 24 to 33, though 41 was the suggested staff. They will complete the project in January understaffed or under trained.

If accepting personal responsibility is so desirable for Ellinger, when will the commissioners, the county clerk and collector admit they failed to respond three years ago to allocation failures currently estimated at $1.5 million before they arose? Vincent labeled the problem “astronomical.” Instead of questioning funding in St. Louis and Kansas City, Ellinger might have spent more time working for Cole County.

Why did no one direct Blair Oaks to the proper person or at least attempt to resolve a possible problem causing Blair Oaks clear concerns? Why did everyone accept a dysfunctional formula for 20 years before Gibler managed to have his eureka moment? Why did the commission and sheriff allow a jail project to become so misaligned with financing because they couldn’t recognize the economic near-collapse of 2008 would likely impact projected income?

A lack of personal responsibility seems clear among the unemployed, the obese, failing students; but not so much when it comes to the county officials we just put back in office.

Issue-oriented letters to the editor in response to this or about other local topics are welcome. All letters should be limited to 400 words. The author's name must appear with the letter, and the name, address and phone number provided for verification. Letters that cannot be verified by telephone will not be published. Send letters for publication to editor@newstribune.com

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