Accountability is a word public officials frequently throw about when projects aren't going as planned. Such talk usually yields little in the way of results because, unlike the private sector, rarely is anyone ever held accountable for public projects mishaps. Here are two examples:
- The Wheeling Tunnel fiasco, in which a planned $5.7 million project ended up taking nearly three years and costing taxpayers $14.4 million. State officials insisted they would find out what went wrong. The public continues to wait for a true account of what happened.
- A state audit from 2008 found two local Division of Highways supervisors exhibited "complete disregard for established accounting practices" in how they funded repair work with federal dollars following the 2004-05 floods in our region. Neither employee received a public reprimand.
The latest project where "accountability" has come into play is the new, $31.8 million Cameron High School. The school is $500,000 over budget and a year behind schedule.
Originally scheduled to open for students in fall 2011, the school has suffered through a number of setbacks. Wet ground, workers leaving for the natural gas industry, various construction issues and other factors have been pointed to for the delay.
With the cost overrun, in 2009 school officials, concerned the project might actually cost less than expected, added a number of features including Terrazzo flooring.
The workmanship at the school also has been called into question. Marshall County Board of Education member Lori Kestner this summer told a representative of Project and Construction Services, which is overseeing the work, "If you did work like that at my house, I'd fire you on the spot," referring to flaws at the school. The firm has since corrected all deficiencies.
Students are moving into the school this week, and Marshall County taxpayers should be pleased the project is nearing its end. But now comes the real test: accountability. Board members have told the public they will find out what went wrong. Board member John Miller told PCS this year: "The public has a right to hold us accountable, and we have a right to hold you accountable."
Indeed. It will be interesting to see over the next several months just how well school officials keep to that pledge. We urge them to find the parties responsible for the delay and hold them accountable.