On some issues, there is no avoiding controversy and the inevitable wounds that go with them.
For years now, any talk of selling Oktibbeha County Hospital Regional Medical Center has produced a heated debate. History tells us whatever the outcome, some wounds will be inflicted on the county’s supervisors.
Fifteen years ago, when Lowndes County supervisors approved the sale of the county hospital, voters remembered and tossed supervisors who voted for the sale out of office. Today, few will argue that the sale of the hospital, now Baptist Memorial Hospital Golden Triangle, was a wise move.
That is a bit of hindsight not available to Oktibbeha County supervisors, of course, and as what figures to be a long, polarizing battle over the future of OCH continues, supervisors will take their lumps.
Some of those wounds are unavoidable.
Monday, however, the supervisors’ wounds were of the self-inflicted variety.
Two instances emerged from Monday’s meeting on the subject of the hospital. First, the agenda listed a proposal to retain legal counsel to guide the supervisors as they consider the hospital sale was listed under the painfully obscure heading, “county business.”
Then, during the citizen-input session early in the meeting, District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams sought to shut down comments from a citizen, who had proposed the decision to retain or sell the hospital be included on the ballot during next year’s municipal election. Williams said the comments were a “waste of time,” and the topic should not be discussed until after the supervisors had completed the meeting agenda.
Both instances were not only violations of proper procedure and decorum, but also damaging to the credibility of the supervisors at a time when they can ill-afford public suspicion.
It should be clear, given the public interest in the topic, that any hospital discussion should be clearly identified on the board agendas. To do otherwise could be viewed as an attempt to conceal information from the taxpayers who have a direct, vested interest in what happens to the hospital.
We also lament the treatment of the citizen, who was within his rights to make comments during the time set aside for that. While his suggestion was impractical — conducting a combined city-county election would be a logistic nightmare — citizens have a right to speak. It costs supervisors nothing to listen. Failing to listen, conversely, can be very costly. When residents are treated dismissively, it often has a way of coming back to bite you.
Meanwhile, the debate rages on.
Supervisors will take some shots along the way. But they need not shoot themselves.