Sunday Extra: Board should focus on bigger picture

Sunday Extra: Board should focus on bigger picture

By GEORGE AMAYA

Tom Kacich's assertion in his July 31 commentary "Our Citizens Deserve Transparency" that I was asking the Champaign County Board to be less transparent in their deliberations over the Champaign County Nursing Home is incorrect. I never requested less transparency from the board or even implied it. I have great respect for Tom but his assumptions were wrong.

With more time to address the board — and, admittedly, with less decorum — I would have more directly and sharply rebuked them for the visceral political brinkmanship they have engaged in over the nursing home. This political fight (that has no doubt included "backroom" party strategy meetings devoid of public transparency) has "in effect, crippled [the county's] position by exposing its weaknesses."

I hold both political parties equally culpable in how this matter has transpired. This fight has undermined the taxpayer's interests, exposing a weakness that any buyer (maybe, cynically, a local investor) can exploit for financial gain.

County board Democrats have tried everything to keep the nursing home while the Republicans have worked ardently to get rid of it. This resulted in the recent vote to deny additional funding and instead, consider the option (and it is an "option" not a mandate) to sell the property. I did not vote for this but I dutifully cede my preference to the will of the voters.

But here's my fundamental assertion: the board's decision to immediately engage a real estate broker has made the situation substantially worse. What exactly did everyone think would happen after this decision? Did the board think it would inspire the staff to stay? Would you move your mother to a county nursing home that's about to be sold?

Not to mention the no-win situation the new management company is now in. They may be able to find a few efficiencies and squeeze vendors a little more but county treasurer Dan Welch said it best, "It's not an accounts payable problem, it's a revenue problem." Well, the board's actions have aggravated the revenue problem!

The board's actions have spoken loudly and clearly, "We're extremely desperate to sell this!" It's an invitation for a buyer to lowball an offer. Who's in the stronger position here?

This has put the taxpayer at risk of a much greater loss than the current $3.3 million owed and now we're being threatened with the elimination of as many as 30 county positions. And what will Board members tell the taxpayers about an even bigger loss?

"We were just doing what the voters asked us to do."

I say balderdash! The Champaign County taxpayer is going to be stuck with a huge bill here and the board is directly responsible.

I implore the county board members to set aside their political differences and focus on the bigger financial picture. The Champaign County Nursing Home is a considerable asset and, if it is to be sold, everything should be done to maximize the taxpayer's return on this investment. In the least, stop making the situation worse.

George Amaya lives in Urbana.

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