By Tom Henry | as published in the May 27, 2017 edition of the Blytheville Courier News
Yogi Berra quipped, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
Once again County Judge Randy Carney is using county equipment to do work on private property at no charge. These actions allegedly include demolition work on houses in Manila and Leachville, the former Shawnee School in Joiner and a barrack owned by Westminster Village. Other work includes the former Osceola City Jail (owned by the county and resulting in an ADEQ fine because no asbestos abatement plan was filed) and maybe more.
He has repeatedly insisted that it is within his purview and that he is simply trying to help everyone he can, but at what cost? I get it, Arkansas law puts the county judges over road departments and landfills, but he is still just a caretaker. The days for old-time county bosses are over.
Right vs. Wrong – it is very important to do what is right, not just what is expedient. The real question is not whether he HAS the right to order his Road Department to do demolition work (having nothing to do with roads). The question is whether or not he IS right to do so.
Legal vs. Illegal – sometimes the line between legal and illegal is extremely thin and has a very slippery slope. Using county equipment and labor for free to do projects that are on private property and not in the interest of the county as a whole is illegal. And no one disagrees that it is illegal for county employees to sell county owned scrap metals for personal gain. Remember the landfill fish fry? Is that happening again? It has been admitted that copper and wiring from these demolished buildings is being collected and sold, but are the entire proceeds from the ale being deposited into county accounts?
It is also clearly illegal to use county resources or the powers of an elected office to benefit an officeholder, his/her donors and business partners. But what do we do when county actions come at a much faster pace than do FBI or Arkansas State Police investigations into earlier questionable (smoke or fire?) actions by that very same county government?
Healthy vs. Unhealthy – I’m no environmental wacko or modern-day hippie, but asbestos has been a known problem in many old buildings (especially military), so if asbestos abatements were not performed (and it appears they weren’t), how can si8mply knocking them down and burying them in huge holes be safe for neighboring vulnerable, elderly residents and children?
Wise vs. Unwise – monarchical decisions such as these might have resulted in the removal of eyesores, but they also left at least a perception of possible corruption or favoritism.
Best Interest vs. Special Interest – if we continue to allow the judge to dictate unilaterally which private citizens and which non-county projects will “be helped” have we not crossed into condoning special interests? How is the decision to “help” made? I need a new culvert in my driveway. Do I qualify?
Perception vs. Reality – even if it’s entirely legal, is the perception of autocratic rule and the endangering of public safety too high a price to pay to remove an eyesore? Asbestos laws are on the books for health reasons, aren’t they, and are county bosses above the law?
Truth vs. Spin – there is rhyme and reason to what Carney does and whom he helps. The truth is Carney is the boss, he knows it and he’ll decide what is done with HIS department’s equipment; and man-hours. He is not moved that people complain or that members of the Quorum Court have publically questioned its legality in the past.
But watch out voters, Carney goes from County Boss to humble, homespun, good ol’ boy on a dime and spins the matter by feigning that he merely want to help all of the little guys equally. If that is true, what about the multitude of condemned homes in Blytheville?
Smoke vs. Fire – so is it legal or illegal? I’m not an attorney, but clearly the smoke is thick and it is also producing heat. Unfortunately, I can’t see well enough (don’t have enough fact) to say that it is entirely illegal. But going to motive, we must remember the various past practices of “his departments.” Only Carney denies there has been a heck of a lot of smoke. He blames all the public choking on dishonest media.
Cost vs. Expense – the cost to doing pro bono (or quid pro quo?) work for private citizens with taxpayer owned and subsidized equipment and labor either is unethical, unsafe, illegal an shameful at its worst or erodes trust in our county government at its best.
Boss vs. Servant – county judges are to be servants of the people, not ole-time bosses. It is imperative that voters trust their elected officials; otherwise eventually taxpayers aren’t the only one that ends up choking on all of the smoke.
Judge Carney, even if it were determined you could use county equipment and labor at will for anything you wanted, I would recommend stopping. Stop using county equipment at though it is loaning out your lawnmower to your neighbor. Stop sending “on the clock” county employees over to your buddies. I want the county to succeed and believe it or not I want you to succeed, but being headstrong and offending county residents just to show who is boss (even if legal) is not good politics.