Payback is . . .

Mistakes are a part of the Human Experience; sometimes even the most important part, one might argue. Lessons learned from doing something wrong the first time are not forgotten nearly as quickly as the lessons learned from breezing through something the first time. Scars are much more powerful reminders than bruises.

Standing up and taking responsibility for one’s transgressions, and fixing those mistakes, is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, we are, at heart, a forgiving society. We want to forgive because we want to be forgiven when our time comes to answer to The Man – and that time will come for all of us, sooner or later, and over and over. When an elected representative stands up and takes responsibility for a mistake, we like that even more. It humanizes them and we can identify with them on a real level. They are no longer some detached “They,” no longer one of “Them;” they are just like “Us.” Fallible. Weak. Human.

Provided, that is, they don’t have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the microphone in order to make their public apology; that they have either self-identified a problem or error, or have had it brought to their attention and, within a reasonable amount of time, humble themselves before the public and vow to make amends.

Two weeks ago, one Winnsboro resident publicly asked County Council if the three Council members who, since 2009, had received cash payments in lieu of supplemental health insurance would pay that money back to the County. He also asked if the Council member who had also received tuition assistance would return that money as well. Monday night, he asked Council to confirm or deny rumors that a deal had been struck for them to do just that. While he did not get the satisfaction of an answer, the Chairman told The Voice after the meeting that there was no such deal, no such deal was being discussed and, for the Chairman’s part at least, there were no intentions of reimbursing taxpayers for those payments. The Chairman’s colleagues from District 3 and District 6, however, later told us that there were indeed discussions ongoing for a possible reimbursement plan.

This contradiction in statements speaks volumes to what is really hindering Fairfield County right now. Even in their belated efforts to make right a four-year wrong, Council members are unable to act in concert with one another, are not on the same page and are not giving the public what it has been so vigorously clamoring for in recent months – accountability.

The most painless way out came and went back in July when the State Attorney General said those payments were in conflict with the law. That opinion was issued on July 8. Some time between July 9 and, say, July 12, was the opportunity to come forward and say “My bad. We’ll fix it,” and say so publicly. Instead, the wound has festered and the people are so in the dark that many do not even know the Councilman from District 3 began repaying money he received for tuition assistance just weeks after the A.G. said that, too, should not have been taken.

Why these Council members did not make a public statement Monday night is a mystery. After all, it appears as though they are on a track toward some kind of reimbursement. The only conceivable drawback to sharing that with the rest of us is if one or more of them decides to go their own way, ignoring the advice of their administrators and keep the money, risking the slings and arrows of a public outcry. Not to mention a potential legal battle.

More than two months after the A.G.’s opinion characterized those payments as contrary to state law, the way out is still the same. It just may not be quite so painless now.

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