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Lawmakers determined not to fix DOT

THE MISMANAGEMENT of tens of millions of dollars, the high-level favoritism, the attempts by the Department of Transportation to mislead the Legislature weren't a surprise to the agency's board, the governor or any legislators who had been paying attention.

The board's chairman had publicly identified the problems nearly two years ago, and called on Elizabeth Mabry to resign as director. But he couldn't fire her. Neither could Gov. Mark Sanford. Neither could the Legislature. No one could change things but the board, and its majority was perfectly happy with the corrupt status quo.

So Ms. Mabry stayed on, contractors continued to get paid for work they didn't perform, friends and relatives continued to get paid for make-work jobs, and our roads and bridges continued to deteriorate.And last week, senators who actually want to fix all that had to call off work on a bill to let the governor name the agency's director after Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman and others balked at the idea of letting the governor also fire that director.

That, Mr. Leatherman explained, could politicize the agency -- by which he meant that the governor's politics could trump the politics of the seven anonymous board members who have never been elected and who cannot be removed when they make the lousy decisions they've been making about which roads to build and whether to even try to maintain the roads we've got. Folks, this isn't rocket science.

If your boss can't fire you, he's not really your boss. You don't have a boss. Just like Ms. Mabry didn't have a boss. Yes, she did "retire" after auditors documented the abuses so that legislators could no longer pretend they didn't know about them and were forced to at least talk a good game about reform.

Does anyone honestly believe that we are such a rich state that we can afford to burn money and stifle economic development and thumb our nose at progress, and pay people to ignore our laws and mislead our lawmakers, and build the wrong roads and ignore the ones that are crumbling? For two years? When we know it's happening? Is the idea of allowing the person elected as chief executive to run the executive branch of government truly so radical, so frightening that we'd rather put up with this?

The rot is so pervasive that reformers gave up before they even started on the idea of doing away with the board itself. That's appalling. If authority filters through a multi-member board, particularly one whose mem-bers are appointed by legislators, you can't pin down responsibility for anything that happens. And that's the way many of our most powerful lawmakers like it.

We didn't think the lawmakers who benefit from the status quo could get any more brazen in their efforts to pawn off a bunch of meaningless changes as "reform." We were wrong.

If you want your government to work for you, if you want to replace nepotism, favoritism and parochialism with professionalism, if you want safer and better roads and bridges, you're going to have to let your legislators know that you won't be fooled by these charades.

If you still think the Legislature has any intention of cleaning up this mess absent a public outcry, we've got a nice new bridge to nowhere that we'd love to sell you. But good luck finding anybody to maintain it.

To find your legislators, go to www.scstatehouse.net and select "Find your legislator" on the left. Or call Project Vote Smart at 1-888-VOTE-SMART.

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