Earlier this year, commissioner Chas Hardy called for a meeting of the board of commissioners to uncover who chairman Tom Crow accused of “hiding money” in the process to build a new EMS station in West Jackson. After almost four hours of questions and information presented by Crow on Monday night, there was no clear answer to Hardy’s question.
Crow had eight large display boards across the front of the meeting room and he used a long wooden ruler to point out questions and concerns he has about the West Jackson EMS station project, but he insisted that he is not accusing anyone of any illegal activity. He also said, after being questioned by members of the audience, that he does not want the station that is already under construction to be torn down or moved. More than 60 people, many firefighters and county and city officials, attended the meeting, which lasted until 10:30 p.m. Monday.
At one point, Hardy directly asked Crow: “Who are you accusing of corruption?”
“I see no corruption here,” Crow said. “Corruption is when someone puts money in the pocket. I see nothing that was dishonest. I don’t see things that were open and transparent so that we all knew what is going on.”
Crow added that he believes money was put into “the wrong category” in the bookkeeping.
“We don’t think anything illegal is going on,” he said. “We think it is being put in the wrong category, the wrong set of books, to cover up the correct amount that is being spent.”
Crow also spoke on his concerns with the site and said that it will put 3,000 people at risk who “don’t have the best response time they could have.” The site was approved by the commissioners. A member of the audience asked Crow if the commissioners approved a site thinking it was another site. Crow said yes.
“When the first vote was taken, it was not spelled out where it would be,” he said. “I voted on what is in the master plan… Nobody said tear it down. Too much money has been spent.”
Hardy said that he knew where the location was when he voted.
“The site was identified and voted on,” he added.
Commissioner Dwain Smith, who signed off on an earlier controversial newspaper ad along with Crow, said: “It is not as much the location as the cost and the overspending. That is my main thing. The overspending for this location.”
Voters approved spending $1.2 million in special purpose local option sales tax for three EMS stations. Crow estimates that it will actually cost $3.6 million for the three stations and hints that voters were deceived about the actual cost.
“We are already over budget and we’ve got two more to build,” he said. “I don’t think that is what the people, when they voted, were asking for.”
Crow was criticized by the audience and some of his fellow commissioners for his role in a citizen lawsuit filed against the county over the EMS station project. The citizens alleged that all of the policies and guidelines were not met during the process. Crow was not a part of the lawsuit but reportedly spearheaded the effort, which has already cost the county $52,000 in court costs and related expenses.
Commissioner Bruce Yates said: “It is a shame that you chose this method and didn’t come to the board of commissioners or county manager and say, ‘let’s get this straightened out’ and instead went the lawsuit route.”
Crow said that he wanted the public to know about his concerns with how the project was handled.
“I had the choice to turn a blind eye to this or bring it to you,” Crow said. “This has been one hell of a ride. There have been many derogatory remarks made. It would be easier to turn my back on this. I’m not one who can turn my back on it. I want to bring it before the public and let you see what we are putting up with.”
Crow said he and Smith have brought these issues up in the past.
“Every time we ask, we are cut off and the question is called for a vote,” he said. “We have tried. We want to work with you.”
Hardy said the project has been in the works “for years” and has been discussed in public meetings.
“We have been working on this for years,” he said. “It has always been done in open meetings. What my discomfort is that you didn’t have any questions. You put an ad in the newspaper asking the questions. You cost the taxpayers $52,000 because you wouldn’t talk to the staff in an open meeting. You didn’t want the answers.”
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