From the Clocktower – Sometimes, ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough

By Kathi Bliss

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

Anyone that’s ever made a mistake or a bad decision, and tried to atone for it can tell you that few things in this world are more difficult than accepting responsibility and explaining yourself. I can’t necessarily say WHY that is, but I know for a fact that it’s true.

The most difficult words to pronounce in the entire English language are, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. This is what happened. It won’t happen again…” And then actually meaning it. Because I know how hard that is, I was particularly impressed when Judge Schawe, Treasurer Lori Rangel and Auditor Debra French each stepped forward, accepted responsibility, and promised to make sure that the payroll glitch that had County employees scrambling this week does not happen again. I know how difficult that must have been, particularly doing so on the record in the public eye.

That truth, and the respect I have for all three of them for stepping forward, makes it very difficult for me to criticize their handling of this situation. Unfortunately, I also believe they fell short of their responsibilities, not only to the employees, but to the taxpayers. I appreciate that they apologized for the sequence of events that led to the employees not being paid; they should have taken the extra step, and told us what happened, how it happened, and why it happened.

It’s difficult to accept and forgive what happened, without knowing how and why things fell apart. I know that, in the private sector, a mistake that sweeping and that large would have resulted in an immediate termination. I can think of no business that would keep an employee that so wholly failed to meet their responsibilities – even if it only happened once. While I understand that governmental positions are a little bit trickier than private-sector jobs, the fact remains the same. Heads should roll, and if we’re to think that they should not, then we need to know why not.

What’s more, if the parties responsible – ALL of them – would take the time to explain themselves, it would make it easier for us, as a community, to forgive and move forward. I’m worried that we can’t move forward like this.

Over the course of the last day-and-a-half, I have heard (and thought), of excuses, reasons and scenarios that could explain what happened. I have considered, and been asked to consider, notions ranging from the County Auditor and the County Judge colluding to not pay employees, in order to prove the point they have been discussing about timekeeping and to “teach the employees a lesson,” to the County Treasurer being too lazy and irresponsible to remember to release payroll. It has been proposed to me that the Powers That Be chose to withhold paychecks to “pad” account balances and collect Feb. 1 interest payments, and I’ve heard that the Treasurer, out of sheer hatred for the Auditor and the Judge, simply opted NOT to process payroll, to create a situation that the pair would have to answer for.

I don’t necessarily believe any of these scenarios. But then again, I can’t be certain there’s not at least a morsel of truth in each of them, and the three dozen more that I’m not going to bother to share. As a general rule, I have found that if you jumble all the rumors together, pull out one word from here and one word from there, you’ll eventually land at the truth.

It would be so much easier and better for the community on the whole, though, if everyone involved just told the truth, without finger-pointing or the blame game. Just the truth. If the one could say, “this is my part in it,” the other could say “this was my part in it,” and the third could say “this is my part in it,” and they could all say “now that we understand what happened, these are the steps we are taking to make sure it never happens again,” then we could all move forward. At the moment, I feel a little bit like I’m looking at my eight- and nine-year-old nieces, trying to figure out who spilled the soda on the carpet, while they both point at each other screaming, “She did it!!”

Our employees deserve better than that. We, the taxpayers, deserve better, as well. We all deserve more than an apology – we deserve an explanation. We deserve a real, honest, and accountable explanation for why Caldwell County employees weren’t able to pay their bills this week. We deserve to know why many of them racked up late fees, “insufficient funds” bank charges, and the insecurity that comes with knowing that bill payments are going to come out of your bank account, and knowing that the money won’t be there. Frankly, I also think the County employees deserve to be compensated for those fees, as well, but that’s an argument for another day, and one I’m not sure I would win.

As taxpayers, we deserve to know that the people we’ve entrusted with our tax monies are up to the task. We deserve assurances that we actually CAN trust the people that we’ve elected and appointed to watch after our County’s business, to do that without personal agenda or lapse of judgment. We can’t do that, until we know what happened, and why.

Well… maybe some folks can. Personally, I’m not one of them. Apologies were made. I appreciate and respect that. It matters. At this point, the explanations matter more. As taxpayers, we deserve them.

I will therefore relinquish this space to the Caldwell County Judge’s Office, the Caldwell County Treasurer’s Office and the Caldwell County Auditor’s Office, inviting written statements to the community, offering each of your offices’ side of what happened, of why it happened, and of how you mean to correct it and offer our employees assurances that it never happens again. We want to hear your side, in your words.

While I’ll wait to hear from you, I’ll be preparing for the extremely angry call from our District Attorney, which I expect to receive any moment.

kathibliss@post-register.com

 

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