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Bustin, Cornish, Lee, Hoskins, Smallwood owe apology tonight

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Five who voted for new health building ultimately to blame for employee cutbacks

By Ben Carlson

We’ll hear plenty when the Anderson County Health Board meets tonight (Wednesday) at 6.
We’ll hear which health department employee has lost his or her job.
We’ll hear which employees will be reduced to part time.
We’ll hear how many furlough days employees will be forced to endure.
But if history is any indicator, what we won’t hear is an apology from those responsible for inflicting this hardship on these employees and their families.
Not once since Andrew Bustin, Joy Hoskins, Jeffrey Lee, Jennifer Smallwood or former judge-executive Steve Cornish voted to waste millions of dollars on a building that wasn’t needed has one of them stood before the public an apologized.
But they should, and should do so tonight in front of the people who are now paying for their decision with their livelihoods.
Don’t look for that to happen. Of the five, only Bustin and Hoskins remain on the board. Confronted by an angry public time and again since his vote in 2009, Bustin remains steadfast in his decision and flatly refuses to apologize.
Hoskins, who along with Lee recommended the new building, rarely speaks during meetings and appears content to simply ignore what the public has had to say.
Lee and Smallwood are long gone from the board — the heat apparently way too high to stick around and defend their votes.
Then there’s Cornish, the former judge-executive who bears the lion’s share of the criticism for this decision. Not only did he keep his fiscal court in the dark about the pending vote on the building, he obstinately ignored a previous administration’s plans — blueprints already existed — to construct a new health building in the county park.
Had he followed through with that plan, the health board wouldn’t have had to shell out $125,000 in cash to the owner of the land on which the new building sits, nor would it have had to give the landowner the old health building, valued at the time at $400,000.
And if that weren’t enough, taxpayers last year spent $275,000 to buy back the old building to house the sheriff’s office.
That’s a whopping $800,000 in transactions that never needed to happen, and perhaps the biggest reason current Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway trounced Cornish in the May 2010 primary.
If their defense is that they were merely public servants who volunteered their time and were mislead by a power-hungry health director, that’s hogwash. Anyone, regardless of pay, who accepts the responsibility to oversee the management of millions of public dollars can’t ignore the magnitude of that responsibility, nor can they run for the tall grass when things go bad.
In fairness, health board members Mark Tussey and Keith Klink voted against the building, as did former member Delwin Jacoby.
Until now the health board has been able to mitigate the damage caused by this decision by using hundreds of thousands of reserve dollars to shore up the health department’s growing deficits. Heading into tonight’s meeting, the deficit stands at roughly $187,000 a year.
Of that total, about $120,000 is used to make mortgage payments on the new building. Yes, that means the department would still be running in the red, but could have been dealt with through better fiscal management, not program and employee cutbacks.
Is this criticism particularly harsh? Yes, it is, but is nothing compared to what health department employees will now be forced to endure.
While these five people carry on with their profitable private lives, those whose lives have been turned upside down are now paying for a decision that has sent the health department’s finances into a tailspin that only staff cuts will solve.
And while those responsible sit and stew over a yet another harsh editorial in The Anderson News, the people paying for their mistakes will try to figure out how to go home tonight and explain to their loved ones why their pay, and in some cases their health and retirement benefits, have been slashed.
At the very least, those responsible should send them home with an apology that is long overdue, but almost certainly not going to happen.