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Paid labor trumps free labor any day

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Not accepting pipeline officials’ request for Q&A a mistake

By Ben Carlson

Column as I see ’em …
Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway made a good decision and a questionable one during last Tuesday night’s meeting of the Anderson County Fiscal Court.
Lest I be perceived as always focusing on the bad, let’s start with the good.
Conway informed magistrates that he had recently rejected the Shelby County Detention Center’s offer of work release inmates, a wise choice once you think it all the way through.
On the surface that might sound like a ridiculous decision, given that instead of having inmates mow grass, scrub toilets, work at the recycling center or whatever else they do for free, taxpayers are now paying actual employees to do that work.
So does that mean Conway is bloating the county’s payroll instead of getting “free” labor? Hardly. Taxpayers were shelling out more money to fetch inmates from Shelby County than it costs to hire a few people on a part time basis to do that work.
Think about it. A county employee had to make two round trips to Shelbyville each day (about 100 miles total) to pick up and bring back inmates. Along with gas and vehicle costs, taxpayers were also paying at least two hours of wages for that employee to go back and forth while nothing here got done.
Then, while inmates were here working, they required much more oversight, training and an occasional figurative kick in the backside to get them to do anything of value at all.
Now, people hired to perform those tasks are in place and know that if they don’t put in a decent day’s labor for their pay, they’ll soon be down the road.
Lazy inmates? They’ll be down the road, too, but back to their jail cells where getting fired is the least of their concern.
But there’s more to this issue than money and no-account inmates. There is also a school of thought that if local government needs something done, it ought to spend taxpayer dollars to employ a local person (if at all possible) to do that work.
As tough as it is to find any work at all these days, those looking for labor work shouldn’t have to compete with inmates for jobs, particularly where they live here and pay taxes.
From what I’ve been told, not using inmates has already paid dividends for taxpayers. Local people have been hired, are doing a better job and when the numbers are crunched doing it for less than it costs to have inmates perform the same tasks.
Now for the questionable.
Conway told magistrates that the developers of the Bluegrass Pipeline asked if he’d like them to come here and answer the fiscal court’s questions.
Conway immediately rejected that offer and recommended that magistrates do the same.
Conway referenced previous meetings and conversations where he said he couldn’t get a straight answer on his questions, and said he doesn’t expect that to change if the company’s representatives come here for a meeting.
He didn’t make that decision alone. Magistrates unanimously voted against the meeting, with Magistrate David Ruggles backing Conway by saying company officials “talk in circles.”
Perhaps they’re right, but it certainly would have been better to invite them into town and have them not answer questions in front of a room full of people than not have them come here at all.
Frankly, I’ve heard and read the complaint about the pipeline developer refusing to provide information to individuals and media outlets far and wide, and I just don’t get it.
Not long after this issue surfaced, I did an extensive interview with a fellow from Williams who answered every one of my questions in detail.
Of course one could quibble about the veracity of his responses, but he never once declined to answer a question or shy away from difficult ones.
It makes me wonder just how hard some folks — including others in the press — are working to get answers, or are they simply not interested in hearing a narrative that doesn’t jive with their own beliefs, notions or biases involving “big oil” and the like.