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More information needed before closing the Columbia Health Districts books

At one time in my life I would have agreed that we should put this debacle behind us and move forward, Mr. Swan. But I find myself feeling pretty cranky in these days of slashed budgets and reduced services for everything taxpayers need … especially health care; so please excuse me while I strongly disagree with your opinion (see 'Bring the health district saga to a silent end,' July 6).

I have a definite left-leaning philosophy. I want to help people when they need it. I want tax dollars spent to educate, feed the hungry and take care of the sick. I want us to spend money to care for our infrastructure, parks, recreation, libraries, law enforcement and all those services that should come with paying taxes.

So I'm not ready to sweep a $6 to $7 million boondoggle under our Columbia County rug. I don't doubt for a minute, Mr. Swan, that you know how much good could have been done over the last six years with that money, so let's don't play a game of 'pretend' and let it go quietly into the night. Instead, let's shine a very big light on everything that went wrong with this project.

I vote for bond issues to improve conditions in our county. I don't vote 'yes' because I have a lot of money. I vote 'yes' because I believe we are all in this together and if living and working conditions are improved, we all benefit.

This does not mean I approve of money 'squandered on attorneys, consultants, land acquisitions, personnel and preliminary construction in pursuit of the now-defunct Columbia River Community Hospital.' No, it doesn't mean that at all. And I think we need a line-item accounting of every one of our $6 to $7 million that didn't result in anything other than an increased standard of living for the individuals who received our money.

I would like to propose that investigating egregious misuse of public monies is something often taken on by news organizations. I would further suggest that you, Mr. Swan, are a bright, well-educated journalist who could benefit his community as well as sell newspapers if he tackled the job of showing all of us just where this money went.

It is hard to fathom how $6 to$7 million dollars can be frittered away and we'd all be fascinated by a public expose of the process by which it occurred.

What do the invoices from the consultants look like?

What service did they bill us for?

Were there contracts? Who signed them?

Was nepotism or cronyism involved? If so who?

Aren't you curious about these details, Mr. Swan?

Who knows? Maybe your investigation would result in the Oregon Attorney General's office finally having no choice but to do their job.

That alone would be a noble cause and intriguing story that would sell newspapers.

- Nancy Ward, Scappoose

[Publisher's response: The Spotlight has provided extensive, weekly coverage of the Columbia Health District, including reports about the spending of its board and administrators in pursuit of the now-defunct community hospital. We agree with Ms. Ward that a final accounting is due on the spending of taxpayer dollars over the last five years, and in fact the editorial she is referencing clearly states we support the new board's efforts to ensure the prior board operated in a responsible fashion. The concern, however, was that the CHD tax would be leveraged to pay more consultants and attorneys to conduct an expensive audit. At one point a board member had mentioned that possibility. We have since been assured the tax rate will remain at zero, as it should.

An expensive audit should not be necessary assuming the records provided to the new health district board are complete and intact. We will continue to cover the aftermath of the hospital debacle and will provide information about the former CHD board and administration's spending until we believe a final, truthful accounting has occurred. DS.]