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Editorial: County fails on transparency; time to show priorities is now

Published: Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 10:16 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 12:11 p.m. CST

Maintaining an old building for modern-day use comes with its fair share of headaches. Ask any city council, school board or state legislature and they’ll tell you facilities management is complex, and one of the biggest pulls on government purse strings.

But furnishing an adequate workspace to properly execute essential services while providing a safe and healthy environment for public employees holds high importance for government efficiency.

The Jasper County Board of Supervisors maintain they were not trying to hide or shield an April mold analysis of the Jasper County Annex Building basement from the public or county employees. The supervisors and county auditor said the report was available for anyone who requested the information.

But as the Newton Daily News series “Building Dilemma” revealed, the supervisors’ effort to communicate about the completed mold report and results which found black mold in the department of public health office was far from robust. Many employees did not know it existed six months later — including those who asked for a copy.

The April 2017 analysis, like a similar mold report issued three years ago, shows the situation has not changed in the annex basement. The same black mold still exists, and the remedy recommended by report author Midwest Indoor Air Quality was also the same. But the county did not go through with professional mold remediation this time around. The board knew this.

The supervisors have a responsibility to communicate any information which could potentially impact health and safety of their employees. No worker, whether public or private, should have to request to see a mold study of their workspace, regardless of how innocuous the results are perceived.

Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott told the Newton Daily News the results of the study are not his to give, they are the supervisors. But Parrott describes his relationship with the board as a “we” not an “I” mentality as he works together with his supervisor colleagues. In that team atmosphere, Parrott should have recommended the supervisors share the report in the spirit of transparency. Despite the existence of black mold, this would have given county workers a sense of ease, knowing their employers were on top of the situation and took their concerns seriously.

County Board of Supervisors Chair Joe Brock, who called for the second mold analysis hoping to calm employees health fears, acknowledges the results have been sitting on his desk since April, but he continues to downplay the potential impacts of black mold on county employees and the public they serve.

“Why everyone is so scared and running for the hills because of this mold as soon as it’s mentioned ... because I guarantee if you took a sample of this desk here you find all sorts of stuff on here and the big longs names it would have,” Brock said during an Oct. 24 interview at the Jasper County Courthouse. “We have (employees) over here who I watch stand outside and smoke, but then they go around bitchin’ about the black mold. I have problems with that. ... I think you can always communicate better, but with the absence of anybody coming to me asking questions or wanting to know anything, I don’t have much sympathy for anybody saying they’re left in the dark on this thing.”

Brock has been the most vocal advocate for exploring the feasibility of constructing a new facility for the county offices, but he also has an obligation to advocate for his employees’ well being today.

Supervisor Doug Cupples has said he’s frustrated with the pace of the annex building debate and would like to come to a resolution soon. Brock and Parrott both said they would never hide anything they thought would endanger people’s health, and that idea is “so far out there, it’s wrong,” Brock said.

The annex building is back on the agenda for Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting, so these elected officials need to seize the opportunity. Show the public and their employees this is a top priority for the board. Prove researched and responsible decisions are on the horizon. Demonstrate the supervisors can come together to formulate a plan which balances the stewardship of taxpayer dollars with the health and safety of county employees and the services on which citizens rely.

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