Were workers poisoned at the Cochran House?
What should have been a routine repair turned into yet another major mismanagement fiasco for Sussex County. It also again raises the question as to whether Sussex County needs an elected County Executive or not.
The Cochran House, was once the old Shelby's department store on Spring Street. It was converted into office space about 15 years ago and in 2005, county freeholders bought 60 percent of the building (31,600 square feet) for $3 million. The remaining 40 percent of the building is in private hands, organized as a condo association.
The building needed a new roof, so last month the private owners and their tenants received notice of the potential hazards posed by the planned renovation. The people working in the 60 percent owned by the county did not.
The work went ahead and when county workers complained about noise pollution and noxious fumes they were offered ear plugs and face masks. Even the presence of older women and pregnant women did not move the male-dominated Freeholder Board.
Why? Because the Freeholder Board no longer calls the shots in Sussex County. Since the Directorship of Rich Zeoli, when the Freeholder Director and County Administrator John Eskilson planned and plotted much mischief together, the County Administrator has behaved more like an elected County Executive -- with power derived directly from the people, as opposed to being an employee of the Freeholder Board. This has been especially the case under the Directorship of Freeholder Richard Vohden, who adheres to the philosophy of governance that the elected Freeholder Board merely exists to ratify the decisions of the unelected County Administrator.
Reports are that County Administrator Eskilson simply refused to recognize the problem until county workers began to get sick. Only then was the air quality tested and the workers sent home. Cochran House was closed for more than a week, with county services affected and some suspended.
It's just the usual Sussex County cock-up. Add this to the county dump that had to be sold and then it didn't, the white elephant real estate deals and vendor scams the county has fallen for, the contract to "study" the jail, the solar energy scam, the vendor scandal over at the Sussex County Community College, the water deal in Sussex borough , forcing workers out to make way for political patronage, pension-padding, double-dipping, Zeoli-era lawsuits, the tax abatements handed out to profit-making private corporations that increase property taxes, while local government seeks to tax non-profits that employee people. The list of cock-ups goes on and on.
Now there's word that some workers are filing claims against the county. Claims the county's property taxpayers will end up paying for. If they were poisoned, they deserve compensation, but they shouldn't have been poisoned in the first place. That was stupidity aided and abetted by placidity.
If the elected Freeholder Director and the Board he controls wants to abrogate responsibility over what the unelected County Administrator does, then it is time for a directly elected County Executive. In this way the voters can hold him accountable.