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'Build and neglect' hurting us all

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By Jack Joyce

It is unfortunate when The News reports the failure of the referendum on the Tell City-Troy Township School bond issue. There is no doubt that the school corporation needs to catch up with four decades of neglect.

There should not be any surprise from current policy boards or current management. Build it and let it fall down from neglect is not what the voters expect from their elected and appointed officials.

"Fiduciary responsibility," "due diligence" and "reasonable expectation of expertise and informed action" are terms you might hear in a civil court where corporate management is on trial for the kind of neglect apparent in the discussion of the referendum.

The voters have finally begun to object to the national disease of "build and neglect" management of their public assets. It is a disease that is destroying our roads, bridges, public buildings and utilities and that applies regardless of whether the assets are owned by government corporations or others.

The disease is composed of two different but closely related problems. Number one is the need of elected officials and corporate management to be seen to do something, something spectacular if possible. Politicians don't get their name and visage in the news media for small maintenance or incremental capital improvement made on a daily basis. Fixing potholes or replacing a malfunctioning commode does not get the news media excited.

Number two is the difficulty of managing daily operations in order to keep management and work crews focused on the need to make incremental progress in maintenance and capital improvements. Often, management, or work crews, are composed of political appointees and often under conditions of gross nepotism.

Appointments are made without an understanding of the need for qualification or the need for competence is ignored for political or reasons of nepotism. Often an attitude of entitlement of position, along with the lack of duty to perform, prevails. It is the duty of policy groups, a school board for instance, to not only define effective policy and create related budgets but also ensure that daily activity consistently carries out those policies.

Actually there is a third problem and that is the need of politicians to obtain campaign funds to maintain their public image and to pay for the next election cycle. The connection to the problem varies with the circumstance but generally entities that have a potential for financial gain are better sources of campaign funds than are the general public who pay the taxes.

In some circumstances there is a fourth problem arising from a lack of a useful project to which political or appointed leaders can attach their name. There are always projects that are desirable but cannot stand the test of justifiability. Most of these projects will serve a small constituency and sometimes are just fads of the moment. This type of project certainly, and in a short time, will be abandoned as not being justifiable to maintain. What is the problem?

Enormous amounts of resources, both financial and human, are wasted in a project that was not justifiable to begin with. But for the politician they have served their purpose, the purchase of a lot of publicity at the taxpayer's expense.

This all adds up to enormous pressure on the policy groups and their appointees to look good in the short term by cutting daily operations that preserve and improve, and to adopt a "build and neglect" attitude. I have heard it said "That needs replacing (or repairing) but I'm not going to put it in the budget.

Let the next guy fix it. I will be long gone by then."

Joyce resides in Tell City.