June 26, 2012 9:47:50 AM
The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors moved briskly through the early portion of Monday's meeting, eager to get to the public comment portion of the agenda.
Monday's meeting drew a crowd of about 60 spectators and the atmosphere of the board room was charged with emotion over the possible sale of Oktibbeha County Hospital.
So, naturally, the first two citizens to speak talked about...roads.
One man wanted to know why the county couldn't pave the little gravel road that his elderly mother lived on. The second speaker, a pastor, asked the Board to provide funding to pave the road that leads to his church. Informed that there wasn't money in the budget for the paving, the pastor asked what he should do. He asked if he should come back to supervisor's meetings each month to make the same request. Told that it wouldn't hurt, he asked how long he might have to return to ask for funding until his request was granted.
"There was another situation like yours," District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer told the pastor. "They are just now getting the road paved. It took them seven years."
The pastor grimaced and let out a low whistle.
On an evening dominated by the talk of a potential sale of OCH, the two inquiries about paving projects might seem, at first, to have little to do with the emotionally-charged subject of selling the hospital.
But, in some respects, it has everything to do with the sale of OCH.
Trainer who has -- depending on one's view -- courageously or foolishly advocated exploring the sale of the hospital, stood his ground as citizen after citizen politely, yet pointedly, voiced opposition to even considering the possibility of a sale.
At the evening's end, the Board decided to lay its cards on the tables -- sort of. The Board voted 3-2 to advertise for consultants to see what OCH might bring on the open market, you know, just out of curiosity.
Earlier in the meeting, when the Board was maintaining the premise that it was not ready to consider beginning the sales process, long-time Starkville resident Frank Davis addressed the board to express his displeasure at the prospects of selling OCH. Davis has been circulating a petition that would force the issue onto a ballot, which would circumvent any effort the Board might have to sell the hospital.
Fine, said Trainer.
"That way everybody gets to have a say," he said.
Throughout the evening, Trainer emphasized that the Board had reached no decision on a sale. But he has organized an "educational meeting" on July 9 during which a consultant Nashville firm that handles hospital sales will talk about the implications of a sale.
Trainer called the meeting an opportunity to get all the facts and data on the table, but he could not hide his enthusiasm for what he called 'some exciting possibilities.'
Exciting or not, the "educational meeting" will most likely be a disaster. The representative of the Nashville firm of Baker Donelson, Richard Cowart, has links to the sale of the county hospital in Oxford to the Baptist Hospital group. It will generally be perceived as more sales pitch than "educational meeting" and is likely to be staged before a hostile audience.
Trainer said he has "nothing bad" to say about OCH. "My intent is not to destroy health care in Oktibbeha County," he said. "I'm just saying that it never hurts to look at this from a different perspective, because if you do you may see that we have some great possibilities."
The crowd who gathered at the Board meeting did not appear to have much of an appetite for listening, though. To them, it's like listening to somebody talk about how ugly your baby is.
OCH is a good hospital, they say.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Davis told the Board.
But the real issue isn't whether or not it serves the county's best interest to have a good hospital.
Trainer's real position, though he is reluctant to express it, is that the county can have a good hospital plus a lot of other things, too. Things like paved roads, for example, and police cars and a new jail and any number of other needful things that the county is hard-pressed to provide its residents in these austere times.
The best way to get that is by selling its most valuable asset.
That might be heresy to most of the crowd, but the man who wanted his mama's road paved and the pastor who is thinking about seven years of waiting for asphalt might be inclined to listen.
So, please, let's dispense with the nonsense that the Board is thinking about the possibility of perhaps considering the opportunity for selling OCH.
This is all about seeing what the hospital would fetch and what could be done with the money it gets.
People don't take their jewelry to the pawnshop out of curiosity.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.